i once had the pleasure of taking care of an elderly priest. we didn't have a lot of time together, as he was nearing the end of his days when we met. but we had enough time to make a sort of connection with each other, more of a shared knowledge of the potential of our relationship than an actual relationship. one thing was sadly clear, he was very alone in his retired life. although he lived with a group of fellow retired priests, for reasons i never explored and for which he was not forthcoming, he didn't feel close to them. i always had the sense (who knows, maybe wrongly) that he looked forward to our visits.
the first time we met, he told me he hadn't been able to hear out of his left ear for about seven years. upon inspection, the problem was immediately apparent. his left ear canal was completely blocked with wax. my nurse and i got busy. we flushed and flushed. we probed with the curette. we flushed some more. finally i was able to grasp a bit of the wax with a pair of forceps. i tugged. i tugged a little harder. finally, out came a large hard ball (think small grape) of seven-year-old ear wax. he could hear! it was truly a miracle. i asked him if he wanted to read it its last rites before we disposed of it. actually, i didn't say that out loud.
one day he was out walking and developed a slowly worsening chest pain. he was admitted to the hospital with an acute mi (myocardial infarction, heart attack). he did well and was discharged back to my care. the first time i saw him after that, i was so happy to see that he was well, that as we shook hands in greeting, and i leaned in to give him a gentle hug, i also gave him a peck on the cheek. i don't know, blame it on the italian in me. the look on his face was priceless. he looked surprised for sure, but i like to think he also looked pleased.
after that he had a bout of stubborn back pain that led to his final diagnosis of cancer. i didn't recognize it as such at first, and on a bad day, despite the fact that i know it would not have really changed the overall course of things, i feel i let him down a little in not recognizing that. but in regards to the rest of it, i don't think i let him down at all, my friend, the priest.