Friday, October 24, 2014

Lettuce Prey

The theme of our second chaplaincy class, earlier in October, was generosity. At the beginning of the day, Paul, in offering meditation instructions, said that sitting itself can be an act of generosity—a way of “giving everything the open engagement of consciousness.”

We did some role-playing, trying out our very preliminary skills, and gave each other feedback afterward on what was helpful or less so. My partner said a lot of nice things, and also that the way I bent down after entering her “hospital room” seemed condescending. I was glad she was honest and will try to remember not to do that.

Jennifer said we will very often be asked to pray, that it is one of the main things we have to offer, after the foremost gift of listening with kindness and understanding. She said sometimes the request will be specific, but 85 percent of the time, it will be for extemporaneous prayer, so she taught us a method (and said it couldn’t hurt to carry around a little anthology of prayers). The next time we did role-playing, I told my partner that Jesus Christ is my lord and savior and that I would like her to pray for me, and she offered a beautiful, heartfelt prayer. It was surprisingly comforting, and what made it work was not the particular words, but her obvious kindliness and desire to be of help. And just like that, 52 years of prejudice against prayer, gone!

It doesn’t mean I’m going to take up a deity-based religion myself, but being on the receiving end of that ad hoc prayer delivered by someone who may not have believed in prayer any more than I did, and feeling how lovely it was to be offered care in that particular form changes the way I think about the word “prayer,” while the class overall is changing the way I react to the word “Christian.” I seem to be meeting a lot of them lately, and I find myself much more open and respectful. Not that I was rude in the past, but I had dismissive thoughts.

A correction regarding Sojourn Chaplaincy’s training program, at San Francisco General Hospital: After learning that a couple of my classmates had applied for that program, I figured I must have gotten something wrong and called them back. It does not require three weeks full time, but it would require ten half-days off work, which will be impossible at least until 2016 (assuming I remain employed).

Back in August, the spiritual care director at Laguna Honda, Bob, arranged with the volunteer coordinator that I could maybe come to the October volunteer orientation session—they do just one per month—or, failing that, November’s session for sure. The volunteer coordinator had initially said the next opening was in January, so I was glad to hear the better news, but in the days before the October training, I left messages for the volunteer coordinator and for Bob, but didn’t hear back from either, and the training day came and went.

A couple of weeks later, after our October class meeting, I tried them both again and again heard nothing back. Nightly I called Tom to ask what he thought could be the problem. He thought that they are probably understaffed and overworked and that they would call me sooner or later. Meanwhile, a classmate reported that she received a call inviting her to come to the session in November, and I began to take the whole thing slightly personally.

I recalled that Bob is at the hospital on Saturdays, so last weekend, I called him and he actually answered. I asked if I was being too much of a pest or not enough of one, and he said he’d thought I was all set to come to the October session! He apologized for the confusion and said, “You’re in the Sati Center program, right? I’ve already added a lot of people to the November volunteer orientation, but unless you hear otherwise, go ahead and come to that.” I was relieved. Now it’s a matter of letting sleeping dogs lie.

I’ve just finished Victoria Sweet’s riveting account of being a doctor at Laguna Honda, God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. Told in the form of engaging anecdotes, it’s about how “practicing medicine” turned into “providing health care services.” The latter manages to both cost more and provide worse care. Sweet is a persuasive advocate of what she calls “slow medicine.”

It sounds like the old Laguna Honda was a magical place, and that much of that is now gone, but I’m still looking forward to being there.

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