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”

I is for Invisible

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

I took my dog, Hurley, for a walk along the Mount Pleasant waterfront, as I often do, but things didn’t look the same at all. Where I can usually look across the water to see the port of Charleston and the many church steeples of the Holy City, today there was a wall of gray nothing. A few times every minute, we would hear the low call of a foghorn, but couldn’t see the source of the sound. Then suddenly, the top of a massive cargo ship became visible, just a few phantom smoke stacks and containers that seemed to be floating on a cloud. It sounded a nearly constant alert to its presence as it made its way through the fog. If there were other ships in its path, I sure couldn’t see them.  Continue reading “I is for Invisible”

H is for Hope

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

It is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, according to Emily Dickinson. Nietzsche said it is the worst of all evils. And on my dark days, I think it’s stupid (though not really). In a hospital, hope can make the difference, if not between life and death, then certainly between life and mere survival. Dum spiro, spero. “While I breathe, I hope.” Even when the people I meet in the hospital are fighting for each breath, or when they are hoping that the next breath will be their last, I watch them wrestle with what it means to hope.  Continue reading “H is for Hope”

G is for God

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

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following exchange with a patient or family member in the hospital:

“Hi, my name is Stacy. I’m the hospital chaplain.”

“Oh, thank you for coming, but I don’t believe in God.”

My response varies. In my early days as a chaplain intern, I would have allowed this to be the end of the visit. But now, with a few years’ experience under my belt, I don’t walk away so quickly. Sometimes I’ll ask them what it means to them not to believe in God. Sometimes I’ll be honest enough to say, “That’s okay; sometimes I don’t really believe either.” But usually, I just breathe a silent prayer to the God I (usually) believe in and offer whatever support I can to the person across from me. We may never mention God again, but God is there.  Continue reading “G is for God”

F is for Forgiveness

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(This is the sixth in the series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Plenty of times in movies and on TV, I had seen someone go into a dark confession booth and say to the priest on the other side of the screen, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been [length of time] since my last confession . . .” followed by a litany of sins. The priest would then assign a number of Hail Marys or Our Fathers, maybe some act of penance. That was pretty much all I knew about asking forgiveness. I’m a Baptist, after all; we don’t do confession — at least not to another person. We confess our sins directly to God (if at all). So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself, as a hospital chaplain, on the receiving end of a whole lot of confessions.  Continue reading “F is for Forgiveness”

E is for Emergency Room

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(This is the fifth in the series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

It is the beating heart of the hospital. It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen a human heart beating (or struggling to beat) inside someone’s chest, up close and personal. I never know quite what I’m walking into when I get a call to the ER. Chaplains are part of the trauma team, automatically paged in the event of a trauma call. (More on that when we get to the letter T.) But there are many other reasons we get requests to come to the emergency room. It’s one of the units where I spend the most time. My closest friends on staff at the hospital are those who work the ER. (Incidentally, it is more appropriately called the emergency department, since it comprises many rooms. But thanks to those pharmaceutical commercials, when I hear ED I can only think of erectile dysfunction, so it remains the ER for me.)

Here, it’s all about crisis. Almost nobody wakes up in the morning planning on being in the ER later that day. The things that bring people here are sudden and surprising. Continue reading “E is for Emergency Room”

D is for Death

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(This is the fourth in my series, ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy. Read other posts in the series here.)

“He then greeted Death as an old friend and went with him gladly, departing this life as equals.”

Sometimes I forget how different my perspective is from that of most “normal” people. Then my roommate asks me, “How was work last night?” I reply, “Not too bad. Just two deaths and a trauma.” She laughs and I look at her quizzically. “Sorry,” she says, “but you’re the only person I know who would call two deaths in one shift ‘not too bad.’ Your job is so weird.” I guess she has a point. Working in a hospital, encountering death on such a routine basis, is more than a little weird. Continue reading “D is for Death”

ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: C is for Charting

When I began my first unit of CPE, way back in 2006, I remember the awesome sense of responsibility I had each time I got to document one of my patient visits. I can’t believe we get to write in the patients’ charts, I thought, just like doctors do! Over the next several years and hundreds, maybe thousands of visits, charting became much less exciting. It was part of the routine, something to check off the list of tasks that must be done. “If you didn’t chart it, it didn’t happen,” my CPE supervisor told us. So I charted my visits, over and over and over again. Every job involves paperwork, I suppose, and this is ours. (And yes, when I started out, most of the charting we did was still on paper, writing with an actual pen on a form in a binder. It’s all electronic now.)  Continue reading “ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: C is for Charting”

ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: B is for Bible

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I’m sure it’s not true everywhere, but since the hospital where I work is located pretty securely in the Bible Belt, we chaplains get a lot of requests to bring Bibles to patients. Our office also contains copies of other sacred texts — the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Torah, and more — but rarely do we get a request for one of those. Instead, we regularly get calls from nurses whose patients say they left their Bibles at home when they were hospitalized and would like to borrow one. We have a steady supply of Gideon Bibles, so it’s okay that we almost never get them back. One patient told me not long ago, “I just can’t fall asleep without reading God’s word!” I wondered which parts she wasn’t reading, since I have found a lot in there over the years that would keep me awake nights.  Continue reading “ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: B is for Bible”

ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: A is for Advance Directive

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How do you want to die? Have you ever thought about it? It’s a line of thinking most of us would probably like to avoid, but as a hospital chaplain, my job involves a lot of thinking and talking about death. And in the hospital where I work, chaplains also have conversations with people who are not near death about what they want to happen when they get to that point. Upon check-in, every patient is asked whether they would like information about Advance Directives. If he/she says yes, a chaplain will go visit him/her within the next forty-eight hours, carrying a blank South Carolina healthcare power of attorney form. Where I work, it is one of the basics of what a chaplain does.  Continue reading “ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy: A is for Advance Directive”