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”

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Worse Than Death?

Recently, a friend of a friend asked me a question about death.  She is a new employee at a hospital in another state.  Though we haven’t seen each other in years, she remembered that I was a chaplain, got my number from our mutual friend, and wanted to talk.  “I’m not a religious person,” she began.  “I’m not even sure I believe in God.  But if there is a God, I need to know if he’ll judge me for this.  I’ve killed three people already.”  Confused, I asked her to explain about these killings.  She told me how she had been the one to remove the breathing tubes and turn off the ventilators for three terminal patients.  “I know it’s my job,” she said.  “And it’s what the families decided to do, and the patients probably would have died anyway.  But they died sooner because of me, you know?  I’m the one who took them off the vent.  They stopped breathing at that moment because of me.  Will God punish me for that?”  I could hear the tremor in her voice.  “I wanted to do this job to help people.  And I do.  I help a lot of people.  But I didn’t count on being the actual instrument of death for some patients, you know?  I don’t know how to deal with that.” Continue reading “Worse Than Death?”