S is for Self-Care

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

You’ve probably heard the saying that doctors make the worst patients. I’m here to testify that in many cases, caregivers are the very worst at taking care of ourselves. It took me years as a chaplain to learn how important it was to care for myself so that I could care for other people. And still sometimes I let it slide. Prioritizing self-care is hard for a lot of us. We live in a society that encourages and praises workaholism, so when we speak up for own need for days off from work, for example, we risk falling behind or being seen as less dedicated than our peers who happily take on extra hours.  Continue reading “S is for Self-Care”

R is for Ready

(This post is part of my continuing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Not long ago, my boyfriend and I took his two sons to a local waterpark, on one of the Saturdays I didn’t have to work. It was a fun day, and I felt quite relaxed as we floated down the Lazy River on inner tubes. But just then, I heard a familiar beeping, and I wasn’t so relaxed anymore. It took me a moment to locate the source of the sound. It was not, as my mind had instantaneously concluded, coming from the pager I carry at work in the hospital. Rather one of the nearby water slides used a very similar tone to let the person working at the top of the slide know that it was safe to send the next rider down. Once I figured that out, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, after nine years of responding to all kinds of emergency calls that begin with that sound, I had a Pavlovian response to it every single time, a small rush of adrenaline. Some subconscious part of my brain has learned that when I hear that sound, I have to immediately be ready for anything.  Continue reading “R is for Ready”

Q is for Quiet

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

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Working in a hospital is sometimes enough to make you superstitious (though, like Michael Scott, I try to be only a little stitious). Full moons really do seem to bring out more of the crazy stuff. If someone mentions that we haven’t had a gunshot wound all day, ER staff members would bet that one will arrive within the hour. And whatever you do, don’t say anything to the effect of, “It sure is quiet around here.” In my book, I tell the story of how I got on a nurse’s bad side by jinxing her shift with the Q word. Continue reading “Q is for Quiet”

P is for Prayer

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(This post is part of the ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

“Why do we look down?” I asked my grandmother one Sunday after prayer time in church. “Isn’t God up in heaven? How come we don’t pray looking up?” My childhood question was a sincere one, but I don’t worry so much now about the right posture for praying. As a hospital chaplain, I have seen and participated in countless forms of prayer. I no longer think that God would be more likely to hear us if we looked in the right direction. Anytime we pray — and I believe we all do, whether or not we call it prayer — we are somehow looking for, reaching out for God.  Continue reading “P is for Prayer”

O is for Operation

Dr. James Patrick Kinney performing early anesthesia procedure at Sisters of Charity Hospital, Buffalo, NY

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Did you ever play that board game as a kid, the one where you had to use the little tweezers to reach into the tiny, metal-lined spaces of the cartoon man’s body to remove the little bucket of “Water on the Knee” or the very literal “Butterflies in the Stomach”? It made me a nervous wreck, and my hands would shake as I anticipated the inevitable Bzzzzz when the tweezers made contact with the metal. I was terrible at the Operation board game, so I suppose it’s a good thing I never wanted to become a surgeon. But I do spend a lot of time near the operating room at our hospital. Continue reading “O is for Operation”

N is for No

(This post is part of the ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

It was the most abrupt end to a patient visit I’ve ever had as a hospital chaplain. I had told the man that his comments were beginning to make me uncomfortable, and that if he didn’t go back to talking about something in which I could actually be of help to him in pastoral care terms, then I would leave. He continued saying inappropriate things, so I stood up to go. As I walked out of the patient’s room, all the visitors and staff members in the hall could hear him yelling at me, “Just one night! I need you! I NEED YOU!” Whether it was his medication talking or something else, he insisted that the answer to his numerous problems was spending one night with “a good woman like you.” I had no problem telling him no. Continue reading “N is for No”

M is for Morgue

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

The sign by the door reads “Decedent Affairs.” It’s a euphemism. Nobody whose loved one is being treated in the hospital, or who is actually a patient there, wants to see the word “Morgue” as they walk down the hallway. That’s the rationale, as I understand it. But the morgue is there. We all die sometime, whether or not we want to admit it, and a lot of us die in hospitals. When that happens, the morgue is where a body stays until it is picked up by the funeral home. Continue reading “M is for Morgue”

L is for . . .

(This post is part of my continuing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

I’ve gone back and forth about which L word fits best with my experience as a chaplain. Most of the other letters were pretty straightforward; one word jumped quickly to mind. But with L, there were two. Part of me thought, it has to be Loss. That’s something I certainly see plenty of in the hospital. In one shift, I may see people lose a spouse, a child, a limb, the ability to walk or talk, the hopes and dreams they had for the future they were certain was theirs, the will to continue living. It isn’t easy to witness those things, and they do come. Continue reading “L is for . . .”

K is for Kids

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(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Working closely with children is one of the best and worst parts of my job. Sometimes it means I get to hold a new baby and speak a blessing over her, as I did with my friends’ daughter, Elli, in the above photo. It means playing Legos with the kid whose mom is working one of her three jobs and who just wants some company while he recovers from another round of chemotherapy. It means talking to the very tall 12-year-old boy in the emergency room in a way that lets him know I understand he’s still a kid, and that it’s okay to be scared or to cry. I love being with kids in those moments. Continue reading “K is for Kids”

J is for Journaling

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(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

I have stacks and stacks of old journals at home. The earliest one goes back to when I was eight years old. I was never one of those people who writes every day, unless something really special was happening – a trip overseas I wanted to remember in detail, a new medication the doctor asked me to monitor my response to over the first few weeks. Most of the time, I wrote when I needed to write, no more, no less. There were times when it was a fire in the bones, when I could agree with the quote from Charlotte Brontë on the cover of my journal above: “I’m just going to write; I cannot help it.” Continue reading “J is for Journaling”