Doctor Jim has an extraordinary ability to look deep inside other people. He can see their souls. So that he can be as close to death as possible, he volunteers at a Philadelphia hospital. After their death, he views the spirits of recently deceased patients leave this world in a manifestation of pure splendour. Throughout the years he has celebrated his ability in secrecy, focusing on the sheer extacy of these transformations, until it is revealed that not every soul has the will or ablility to take that all important step to the next realm. Delicate souls, petite and pale to Jim's eyes, face a grim fate.
With a better comprehension of what lies in store for us all after death, the Doctor joins a group of other like-minded and gifted people with the purpose of assisting spirits he believes do not have the power to journey to a new existence. By merging their supernatural gifts, they isolate those that are facing death sometime soon.
Most everyone knows life isn't always comforting. Life can be hard and sometimes events occur to accentuate that very point. When that happens, we end up in places we'd just as well not be. Emergency rooms and intensive care units in hospitals come quickly to mind.
To be fair, medical centers were never really designed to be welcoming destinations for vacationers, tourists, party seekers, and day travelers. They don't have to be. Let's face it; folks don't seek out hospitals for the food, drink, and entertainment, although some do end up in one after a long night of such frolicking. People go to a medical facility because they are running low on alternatives, or they are brought there because they are in no condition to move on their own. If they could, they probably would start running in the opposite direction the moment they sensed that antiseptic smell.
As distressing as these facilities can be, hospitals are usually always busy. Not everyone runs away, even those that are capable of doing so. Most incoming patients and their family members do not savor the need to be present, but there are others that walk the halls of health providers and remain there by choice. They stand readily available to assist, not out of need, but out of some desire to help. They are incredibly caring individuals that choose to offer their services, and many do so on a volunteer basis.
I give these people monumental credit. They choose to serve in a place where broken bones, illness, blood and vomit are commonplace. If it were me, I'd much rather help out at a candy store or an ice cream parlor. I like it when sugar is commonplace. The volunteers I see, however,
don't need such sweet incentive. These people are not even being compensated in money, let alone sweet, decadent treasures.
The reason I see these people is because I also spend a great deal of my free time volunteering for a hospital in one of the busier sections of Philadelphia. I do so under the guise of offering assistance to others. In truth, however, I'm here for my own selfish reasons, though no one else knows that. The hospital staff, supervisors and administrators think I'm one of the noble volunteers. They think I've chosen to help those in need out of the goodness of my heart.
In the beginning, I waited in visiting areas and back offices, and I allowed the nurses and doctors to guide people to me. Eventually after proving I could truly provide support, I became bolder in where I would wait. I stood in the ER administrative and triage areas, chatting with doctors, nurses, and emergency medical technicians.
Ultimately, however, I wanted more than this. I wanted free and complete access to the entire ER including treatment rooms, and my focus did not end there. I also wanted the ability to journey about freely in the intensive and critical care units. I can't see what I am there to see from the waiting room, from an office stashed away in a corner, or from behind some curtain. I need to be closer, closer to those that are about to die.
At first, I heard my request to roam about the facility was met with resistance by supervisors and eventually by the hospital board--the group of doctors and administrators that make all the decisions about how millions of dollars get spent and that get to sit wherever they want at the annual fund raising dinner. They did not think it appropriate for a grief counselor to be stalking about as if waiting to pounce. I guess they believed I might have aspired to be some kind of grim reaper.
In truth, I could see their point. A person that makes a request to walk about any facility in order to be physically present when a patient dies sounds more like a ghoul than a counselor. I tried to defend my appeal by stating the act of simply being near gave me greater empathy towards those I intended to help. My presence at the end removed the sense of detachment and it allowed me to better understand the grief of those that just lost a loved one. The people that suffered the loss would also be more willing to talk with me if they knew I had witnessed the actual passing. It gave them a connection to me. It sounded good on paper, but I didn't have much faith in a positive answer.
Still, a young doctor that has become one of my few close friends went to bat for me. His name is Dr. Paul Paxim. He's a young fellow that appreciates my ability to talk with some knowledge on most sports topics. It doesn't take much to do this, just a good memory and a daily perusal of the sports page. I assume he liked having me around the emergency room and wanted to make sure I didn't leave because I might be insulted by the board's decision.
When they took up my request, he met with them to explain that I never get in the way, that I never pounce on anyone, and that I am extremely respectful of the circumstances around me. He insisted I was about as obtrusive as a bedpan waiting on a shelf. No one really pays too much attention to it, but it comes in real handy when it's needed. He insists he actually said that at a meeting, and I have no reason to doubt him.
I was given the go ahead to move about the hospital at will with the understanding that if there was one complaint from a patient, from a patient's family member, or even from one of the staff, this privilege would be revoked. If no such complaints surfaced, I could go anywhere I wanted.
The first few times I took full advantage of this opportunity, I had to fight back severe doubts regarding my decision. It's not easy to look at the dying up close and personal, especially those that were dying from some extreme trauma.