When I left you, I thought to myself that patient rooms are the best classrooms.
Better than graduate seminars and intensives. Better than syllabi with supplemental reading lists so long they make your eyes hurt.
The simple wisdom coming from the lives of pained people is exquisite, expensive truth that I get for showing up as a chaplain. I didn’t have to pay tuition or get reimbursed for my travel. I didn’t have to buy a book or copy an article. I, simply, answered a page.
You told me something I’ve heard in different ways by other people. You said, my words not yours, that our conceptions of God are ours, that they are personal, and that they can be taken only so far. You used the image of the stars and suggested that we ought to be humble as humans because we “perhaps just stumbled upon the ability to think.”
You said that our ways of understanding God should be humbled by such things. And I’m considering the depth of your words. We ought to be humbled by such things.
I approached her the way I would anyone in her situation. Softly. Gently. Quietly. My head was bowed. It was a form of what I’ve explained to my wife is my chaplain walk.
The woman was crying. It’s not all she was doing but crying sums it up. More broadly she was at the side of her dead father. I had already been with him. Now, I got to meet his daughter and stand with her to witness life once father is gone.
I came to her side. I asked her if I could touch her shoulder. I did so, recognizing the tender permission you give to a stranger you realize is only there for you. You may never see him again. You may never have to explain yourself. You may never have to re-live that moment. So you say yes with a shrug that can be interpreted as a grief heave, even though it’s the answer to his question.
My hand was on her and at some point, she turned to me. She asked me if I could hug her. My arms were already open. That opening was not planned, though it was intentional somewhere in my soul. My posture knew what it meant to be there, knew those tears. I knew something about that woman’s grief. And we both gave and received each other’s hugs.
I was reading materials in preparation for a class on safety and quality improvement. It’s a multiple months-long course with a lot of physicians and statistics. It’s not material I’m naturally good at. I have a part to play as a spiritual caregiver in what we’re planning. I am useful even if I’m not a nurse or respiratory tech or, certainly, not a doctor.
I’m learning interesting things. I’m hearing even more interesting things about our hospital and about hospital systems in general. I’m learning more than I thought I would when I joined the team to work on our project.
In the pre-course work for our session on analyzing data, the final sentence on the slide was this: Please create two to three visualizations in an effort to isolate root causes / key drivers. This was a sentence about measures and hypotheses and graphs and tools.
As I think of it now, this sentence can go in many directions. What would it look like if you prepared a visual to capture the things that were causing you trouble? What would the visual addressing those causes and drivers include?
When we were checking in with each other the Wednesday after Election Day, my supervisor described our having been through a trauma. Traumas take some getting used to. He said in swift Strening fashion, “It takes time to learn what can be trusted.”
Perfect. Accurate. Compelling. I thought at the time how grateful I was for his supervision, for his way of putting things, and for his open spirit that feels. He is as great a pastor as he is a supervisor. And there he was summing up a decisive collective experience. Trauma.
I’ve learned in CPE that traumas take many forms. They are often unexpected. They leave us feeling brutalized and sometimes tired, spent. Traumas require a response when we have little energy for it. Traumas pull the soul through thick, murky sludge, and no matter when we emerge, we’ll be different.
The look of it will be up on us. The smell of it distinct. Trauma can’t remain hidden. At least at first. Naming it for what it is helps.
Calling an election trauma matters. Distinguishing the singular event – that had all those earlier moments attached it – as trauma separates it and brings it to our collective consciousness for what it is.
As you recover, take the time you need. Visit the reality of what’s happened in our country. See the fractures and fears. Witness the same in you. Slow down to appreciate how hard life is for you and for us. It will take time to learn what can be trusted.
The quickest responders are the ones who count. That’s what I usually say to myself.
Those are the medical personnel. Together, the team is between 15-20 people: physicians and nurses and respiratory techs. Security and a chaplain and a hospital administrator. We rush within minutes from all quarters in the hospital.
The medical folks address the medical crisis. They attempt to stabilize the patient all while deciding if and where the patient will be moved to a different unit in the hospital.
That could mean transporting someone from the lobby to the Emergency Department. It could mean a patient, once stabilized, is taken from a medical floor to one of the intensive care units. In most cases, movement for the patient is presumed. Even if it takes time to accomplish.
Chaplains come with the primary focus on the family in order to support anyone present who may be with the patient and with a secondary concern for our care providers. Watching trauma unfold is its own participation in trauma.
Participating in trauma does things to people. It anchors you and disrupts you. Both happen. In a trauma, someone else’s and your own, the world that you knew flips.
Time changes. People move quickly and they don’t move quickly enough. The room is noisy and the floor cluttered with needle caps and clothes and ripped packages that once held tubes and lines and other medical implements.
It is an essentially upsetting, unsettling, and uprooting experience. Have you experienced something like this? Perhaps not a medical crisis but another version of trauma? What’s helped?