Forgotten Vows

By: Modean Moon


She would die.

That’s what the doctors said when the woman was brought into the newly opened emergency trauma center of the small community hospital. But because they were doctors, and because this unconscious woman was the first true emergency to be brought into their shining new facility, they cleansed and patched and stitched so that when the moment of death came, which seemed imminent, she would at least be clean and whole. Then they called in the hospital chaplain.

The chaplain administered the sacrament of unction, then sat with the woman, who seemed little more than a child, mourning the waste of this young life and grieving for the pain this loss would cause her family, whoever they might be. But when she clung to life with a tenacity that amazed even him, he said a small prayer and contacted his cousin, vicar of the most affluent church in this well-to-do community for help.

It so happened that the lesson for the previous Sunday had been from the Gospel of Matthew. “…inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” and the vicar had preached what he considered to be one of his finest sermons in almost fifty years of service, admonishing his flock to share their blessings as well as count them during the Thanksgiving season in order to prepare themselves for the coming season of Advent. Determined to discover the effectiveness of his sermon, the vicar called on one of the leaders of his congregation, the hospital administrator.

The hospital administrator was not willing to donate the use of an exorbitantly expensive bed in the intensive care unit to the still-unconscious, unidentified and probably uninsured woman, no matter how obviously fine her clothes had been prior to her injuries. But, with gentle prompting from the vicar, he recalled that a number of semiprivate rooms were not currently in use, and, since the staff and facilities were available, he consented, without grumbling about the cost, to letting her be installed in one such room.

She would die.

That’s what the doctors said on the third day, when the infection in the woman’s lungs became pneumonia and it was obvious that she had no resources left with which to fight the disease. But the vicar had been quite busy. Donations of flowers, money and nursing care flooded the hospital. The vicar stood back, smiling gently, pleased with his flock who had opened their hearts, or at least their pocketbooks, to this waif who had quite literally been dropped into their midst.

And still she clung to life.

Matilda Higgins was a retired registered nurse who had thought she was at long last through with all-night duty. Not having much of a pocketbook, though, and thinking of her own daughters and granddaughters, she had given what she could: her time—through the long hours after midnight.

Matilda sat in a comfortable chair in the hospital room, knitting by the light of a single, discreetly angled lamp, as she had for five nights, listening to the labored breathing of her patient. When the sounds of the young woman’s breathing changed, Matilda put aside her knitting, walked to the side of the bed and studied the figure lying there with the observance that had carried her through years of successful nursing.

The patient moved restlessly, awkwardly, hampered by plaster casts and splints and tape and tubes. When she was first brought in, her dark brown hair had hung past her waist. It had been necessary to cut it close to her head in order to search out and remove tiny pellets of gravel and grit embedded in her scalp, to cleanse and treat the long gash. Now her small head, swathed in bandages, stirred on the pillows; her eyes opened for the first time since she’d been found.

She looked directly at Matilda without seeming to see her. Her mouth opened; a small tongue crept out to wet dry lips. “Renn?” she whispered, her voice cracked and rusty. “Renn?” And as strange as the word sounded to her, Matilda knew this must be someone’s name.

Matilda wanted to take the woman’s hand to calm the panic she heard in that lost voice, but that would have been awkward. Instead, she laid her hand on the woman’s feverish forehead. “Renn’s coming,” she said in her most comforting tone, praying that this was in fact a name, and that she had repeated it correctly, praying that this was the right thing to say.

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