No Room in the Nave

Insurance doesn't pay for caregivers who travel with an ill family member.

Insurance doesn’t pay for caregivers who travel with an ill family member.

No Room in the Nave

I stood on the busy street corner, staring at the imposing edifice rising from the concrete jungle in the shadows of nightfall. Churches in inner cities sure looked different from the ones back home in Montana.

Glancing nervously about, I checked the directions jotted on my suddenly cold palm. MUNI to route five, route five to 10th Street stop. Two blocks from bus stop. I stepped to the left, then the right, shifting the overnight bag that dug into my shoulder, hoping to find comfort and cell service. The phone started to ring. At last!

“Hello, Pastor Bob speaking.”

“Yes, um, my name is Anita and my husband has cancer and is at UCSF and a friend told me that your church has a guest room and I was wondering if I could spend the night there.” No point in beating around the bush. My exhaustion demanded a place to stay.

The silence on the other end made me check my phone once again for service. “Hello? Can you hear me now?”

“Yes, um, well, Anita.”

Here it comes, I thought, the rejection. I took one last longing look at the church. Creepy, but cheap. Why exactly was I there?

“Tell me more about yourself.”

Hope like a mustard seed bloomed within me.

“I’m Anita Ojeda, from Bozeman, Montana. My friend insisted I call the pastor of the church because she used to work in this conference and knows that the church has a guest room.”

“Ah, I see.”

Hope squeezed down to the size of sesame seed.

Cold-Calling a Church

“My husband’s in the hospital, and I don’t really have a place to stay until he gets a private room. It’s good he’s not in a private room, on the one hand, because it means he’s not hopeless enough to need one.” I blathered.

“I can’t spend the night in the hospital lobby, they don’t really approve of that, you know. I don’t even need bedding, just a safe place to crash,” I babbled, naively knowing that we could do cancer economically. The closest bed and breakfast (there are no hotels close to the hospital) was $90.00 a night.

“Indeed.” Hope looked like a lettuce seed.

“The gal from Montana that used to work here said the room is for people who really need it, it’s a ministry of your church. I don’t think I’ll need it more than a night or two. When Pedro starts chemo, he’ll get a private room and I can sleep in a private room at the hospital. They have chairs that make into beds, they even provide some bedding, well, the nurses don’t mind if you take it yourself from the laundry closet.” Words heaved out of me, like vomit in a stranger’s lap.

“I see.”

Really? It didn’t sound like it.

“You said your name was Anita? From Montana? I’m just an interim pastor, Anita, so I don’t have any real authority. I’d have to check with the church board before I did anything.”

I trudged back towards the bus stop. “Thanks, anyway.” I folded the phone and shoved it deep in my pocket.

I understood the bureaucracy of the brethren.  I took a long shot and it only cost me my pride and the price of a bus ticket.  Well, that was like losing my bikini when diving into a pool full of people, I thought as I trudged back towards the bus stop.

Wise Words For Those Who Know Caregivers:

    1. Don’t insist that a caregiver cold call a stranger and ask for a room at a church or mission or private home. How difficult would it be for YOU to call and make the arrangements
    2. Give vouchers to hotels or bed and breakfast establishments in the area if your caregiver friend has to spend the night in a strange city. Lodging for out-of-town treatment costs a lot of money. Insurance doesn’t cover it, and hospitals try to do as many procedures on an outpatient basis as possible.
    3. Don’t heckle your caregiver friends to see if they’ve followed through on your advice. They have enough on their plate already.
    4. Do quietly work your ‘friend-of-the-caregiver’ magic with (anonymous) gift cards to restaurants near the hospital (hospital food is expense and not that tasty).
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