'have decided it's about time I branched out and started writing something different. This week I tried my hand at the screenplay for an episode of the popular hospital drama Casualty.
Imagine the scene. The hospital chaplain is giving Holy Communion to a gentle old man and then says in answer to his enquiry: "No, that's my rounds finished. Now I go back to say the evening Mass, and for once I will be in good time. Who knows? I might even have, a chance to say some prayers beforehand." At that moment his bleep sounds and with a reluctant sigh he goes to the nurses' station to call the switchboard. The call is to accident and emergency resus, where an 80-year-old man has collapsed with serious internal bleeding. Can he come at once'? Shot of chaplain walking briskly down long corridors to the other end of the hospital only to had that the crisis has deepened. He must wait, they are trying to stabilise the patient. The chaplain is shown into the relatives' room where the patient's son is waiting, anxious and relieved to see the priest at one and the same time. So they sit and do what you do in moments of high drama, make small talk. The patient and his family are Iraqi and the two men talk about the plight of Christians in Iraq under Saddam. The man gives a wry half-smile and says: "The truth is that Saddam did not especially persecute Christians. He persecuted everyone."
After about 10 minutes, during which the chaplain can't help looking at the clock as if to say: "1 am going to be late for Mass", a doctor with a heavy South African accent comes in and says: "You can come now, if you don't mind working round us."
The chaplain scrubs his hands and wanders around trying to find something on which to dry them. He puts on a blue plastic apron and with the man's son they approach the trolley. There are five or six people crowded round, and drips and monitors also. It is hard to see the man himself but close to it seems as if some of the time his eyes are open and he is semi-conscious. He looks startling because the top half of his chest, where he is having drains and lines inserted, is smeared with iodine and his skin is stained a rusty brown. There is blood everywhere and the floor is covered in blood and water. Full and empty sachets of blood for transfusion and salines are scattered along the counter beside the patient. and it is all the chaplain can do to find a small space and set out the equipment of his competence, a small crucifix and a small white square of linen and a silver oil-stock. They are an odd contrast to the paraphernalia of the medical world.
He puts a purple stole round his neck and bends to speak to the patient, calling him by name and telling him that he has come to pray with him for healing and strength. The man's son is there also, and he speaks to him in Arabic. With a voice that sounds surprisingly calm amid the feverish activity around the chaplain reads a prayer and then places his hands lightly on the man's head and prays. He then anoints the man on his forehead. The man's eyes look at him intently. Next the priest puts a little cross of oil on the man's palms and as soon as he has finished, a nurse turns the patient's hand over to insert a canula one of those little plastic taps into a vein. The priest and the son say the Our Father and the Hail Mary and then the priest raises his hand in blessing. The son whispers more in Arabic.
"Tell him he is at peace with God," the priest says. They are then ushered to one side as the doctors continue their frantic care and a monitor makes a rhythmic bleeping.
The priest looks a bit fazed by the whole thing, but the son, true to the custom he knows, kneels in the middle of the emergency room, takes the priest's hand and kisses it and thanks him profusely. This is too much for the priest, whose eyes begin to fill with tears.
I worry it may lack the necessary human interest, for there were few forays into the deeper motivations and crises of the people involved; the doctors and nurses appear as totally dedicated professionals and we have no inkling of how their private lives or feelings impinge upon the devotion they bring to treating this man, whose character. similarly, is almost totally underdeveloped. We do not even have a satisfactory ending, for we do not know if the man survives.
All these shortcomings are, of course, because what I have described is no fiction. It happened thus, and reality is a good deal less straightforward, clear, exciting and memorably verbalised than the virtual reality we see on screen. But the ministry of the Church found the words to make of this tragedy something meaningful. At least three of its protagonists appreciate that.