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During nursing school, I worked nights as an aide on the extended care floor. There I met Paul. He was forty-three years old but looked more like sixty-five. Parkinson's disease had wasted his muscles, giving his face a mask-like appearance. He could no longer show facial expression or control bodily functions, such as elimination. He would lie stiffly in his bed or on a special reclining wheelchair for geriatric patients we called the Cadillac. Paul could not speak and was at the mercy of the nursing staff for his basic needs.

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I hated the physical arrangement of the extended care floor. The longest hall of windows looked out on the town cemetery. If patients were not already depressed by being on this floor, the first view out their window in the morning would make them feel as if they were there to die. For the staff's convenience, Paul's bed was kept at window height. I doubt that anyone ever considered that it left him gazing out on his father's grave.


Paul's aged father had cared for him devotedly until the last few months. One night, as his tired father slept in the room next to Paul, the house caught fire. His father spent every last ounce of energy he had dragging Paul out of the house on a bedsheet. The fire fighters found him collapsed on top of Paul, protecting him from the billowing smoke. He died before they could get him to the hospital. Paul had no other living relatives.


One particularly hectic night I came out of a six-bed ward with my arms loaded with dirty linens. I could barely see over the top of the pile. As I rounded the corner to the utility room, I noticed that Paul was still in the Cadillac parked in the hall. I guessed that the evening shift had forgotten to put him to bed. He was making an ominous noise that sounded like a fog horn. After I dumped the linens, I went to Paul and noticed he was covered in sweat and shaking more than usual.


His eyes pleaded with me for help. I flattened the Cadillac to a stretcher position and pushed him into his room. I covered his bed with a bath sheet. Then I carefully scooted him over onto his bed and gave him a warm bed bath. Tears rolled down his weary face.


I hummed familiar hymns while I washed, rinsed and dried his body. He stopped crying. After three or four hymns, he stopped trembling. Next, I decided to sing aloud: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed."


As I rubbed his back with lotion, I noticed that I was not singing alone. A beautiful, rich tenor had joined me. I looked at the bed next to Paul's, but that patient was sound asleep. The rest of the room was dark. I walked around to the other side of the bed. "Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come." Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home. When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we've first begun.


I stood in amazement, forgetting to sing along, as I watched this man whom I knew to be silent, other than unintelligible sounds, warmly praising his Lord. When Paul was done, I reached down and hugged him. I sat by his bedside for several minutes, enjoying the peace of the moment. Eventually he closed his wet eyes and fell asleep.


Never again did I hear Paul make an understandable sound. I would sing sometimes, which he seemed to enjoy, but he never sang with me again. I considered that remarkable event to be one of God's miracles that I was privileged to witness.