18 July 2010

My On-Call Week Reflection Paper

What have I learned and seen during my week of being in the hospital for seven days in a row?

I've learned you don’t have to be a cantor to leaf through a hymnal and sing to a woman who’s used music to keep her going through twenty-some years of cancer treatment. I've learned you don’t have to be a fiery prayer giver to mean a lot to an elderly Baptist woman (a psalter and, more importantly, a warm hand will do). I've learned you don’t have to be a Rabbi (or even Jewish) to feel inescapably moved to sing the Shema to a scared and dying man alone in a too-quiet ICU room.

I’ve seen patients, families, and caregivers disagree vehemently about end-of-life care, sometimes selfishly and sometimes -lessly. I’ve seen paranoid and uncooperative patients who want to triangulate the hell out of you still needing and able to accept (in their own way) the care you offer. I’ve seen communities of faith and communities of a city block be the kind of lifeline that St. Paul and the Deuteronomist dreamed they could be. I’ve seen a patient who hadn’t spoken for a week (and who I assumed would never speak again) tell me how he likes to look out his window at the river. I’ve seen what a gift high-strength pain relievers are for people who live their lives in constant, excruciating pain.

A lot of these things I’d learned and seen before. Some I hope I’ll never encounter again. But I think the value of experiencing it all in so short a time was to see the enormity of what even a very inexperienced chaplain can do to help in just one week, albeit an unusually long one. For me, the great paradox of this job is that we can do so little and yet we accomplish so much. It seems algebraicly impossible. It’s the kind of heavenly math that—despite all the psychologizing and pastoral toolkits and mnemonic devices and hospital procedures and scholarly articles—reminds you that the Holy Spirit is very much at work here, somewhere.


Gillian said...

Thank you for this. Had a fairly full CPE week myself this past week, and this helps put it in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully, faithfully, and tenderly expressed, Kyle. Yep, it's so much about a calm, quiet presence. That alone can transcend any words of ours. Companionship, the unselfish giving of ourselves, and a patient and loving spirit are healing balms. You have that spirit in spades, my friend. Deo gratias!