I stopped just after I entered through the door. The emergency room was bustling with nurses and patients. I turned around to leave but then I stopped again. I was still standing in the entrance when the attendant at the counter noticed me.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“I… don’t know if I really have an emergency,” I stammered.
“What’s the problem, sir?”
“My chest hurts… and…” And then I started crying and couldn’t stop.
It became a blur at that point. I remember a nurse came and guided me to a room. She spoke softly as she took my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Then she pasted a bunch of electrodes all over my chest and back. She left the room saying the doctor would see me as soon as he could. She came back to check on me a couple of times.
It wasn’t my heart. It was an anxiety attack. I’d been having them often, only not as severe. Before I left my job at the church I had one every Sunday morning before people arrived for the service. My chest and head would pound, I couldn’t breathe, and I’d get dizzy and nauseated. I knew it was anxiety so I tamped it down by focusing on the people in front of me. But that weekday the pain in my chest came and wouldn’t go away. In fact it became worse which is why I went to the ER.
It was embarrassing. I hated telling anyone that I was panicking when there was no emergency. On the other hand, I guess I was having an ongoing emergency and my heart was in pain as I faced major changes in my home and career.
Late in the afternoon they took all the electrodes off me and told me to go home and relax.
That next week, a young couple who didn’t attend my church asked me to perform their wedding. They came to my office and we discussed the particulars of the ceremony. When I asked what they did for a living, the woman surprised me when she said she was a nurse at the ER.
“Did you see me when I was there last week?” I asked.
She nodded. I felt the embarrassment and I didn’t know what to say. I was the pastor giving advice and instruction yet she had seen me as a blubbering mess.
“Are you comfortable,” I said, “with my doing your ceremony?”
She smiled and said, “Sure, if you are.”
We continued the session. A few weeks later I performed the wedding. As I had her repeat the vows, my memory came back and I realized she was the nurse who actually took care of me.
After the service I hugged her and said, “I didn’t remember you until just now.”
If I were still a minister I might tack on a verse or spiritual observation at this point. But really… I got nothing. I wrote this so people would understand how bad I was feeling when I left. But I also wrote so I wouldn’t forget that a person I was assigned to help had already helped me.