The Rev. Richard Palmer: End of a cycle: A last visit to AGH

Published: Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 at 4:28 p.m.

Each year we experience four seasons. We can all see that the days are changing, it stays darker later in the morning, it is cooler at night; there are more leaves in the backyard.

Cycles are the stuff of life.

Those of us who work and participate in the life of the church have met and know thousands of men, women and children. The same is true for other professions, but we church people tend to experience people on a deeper and more personal level.

For me a recent day was an end of cycle. It was the last time my dog Bill and I would volunteer at Alachua General Hospital.

As we drove past the Gainesville Police Department and then by W.T. Chesnutís Central Florida Office Plus store, Billís tail started to wag. In fact in front of W.T.ís he made a soft bark of glee. He certainly knew where he would soon be.

A couple of blocks later I pulled into the clergy parking spot, as I have done a couple hundred times before. Out of the back seat jumped Bill, and we entered the lobby, where he transformed into Dr. Bill.

His routine is to first head for the volunteerís office. It is there he usually receives hugs and dog treats. The door was locked, the lights were out. He was puzzled; I felt a pang of finality.

We walked through the maze of mostly empty hallways. As is his habit, Dr. Bill went into the surgical waiting room and went up to each individual who was waiting to hear the surgeonís news about a loved one. To this day I am still astonished by the magic that he does ó how a simple dog somehow calms the most nervous person and changes stress into joy.

We then went to see Leo Morganís daughter, Jean, in admission. And then to the E.R., where he was greeted, photographed and hugged by a small crowd of adoring nurses, doctors and a medical student.

As we left each department, we knew that was to be the last time we would visit there.

We went to cardio rehab and then we found Lorena McAlpine down on the first-floor basement going through 40-plus years of things that are too valuable to throw out, yet may not mean a thing to an outsider.

Upon leaving I came upon the hospital administrator who will soon be unemployed. He is a good man.

I do not understand the logic of shutting down a hospital, let alone one the caliber of AGH. It is beyond my comprehension. But the reality is that someone thinks AGH has run its cycle.

I do not know how many babies were born there, I do not know how may people over the years were healed or how many precious lives were saved from certain death. Certainly the numbers are impressive or even staggering.

Just as important is the quality of the hundreds of people I met who dedicated their lives to healing and helping neighbors in their greatest time of need.

Professionals and volunteers made AGH a very special place. From its beginning until its end it was a warm place of compassion and caring ó something I pray that the big box institutions like Shands and North Florida Hospital will understand and encourage.

To all of you who have labored either as paid staff or as a volunteer at AGH: The community of Gainesville thanks you for making such a very special place that was both highly professional and yet felt like family.

As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, near the top of my list I will give thanks that AGH was there, day in and day out offering hope, compassion, healing and, yes, even the deepest of friendships.

The Rev. Richard Palmer is minister at Grace Presbyterian Church and has been a volunteer chaplain at Shands at AGH for the past several years.

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