Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hard Stick

From a patient’s chart that noted, “Patient is a hard stick.” (It’s hard to get a needle into the patient.)

Last Saturday, figuring that if people can tell I’m a chaplain just by looking at me, it was past time for a haircut, I had this service performed at the Pretty Pretty Collective on 22nd St. and ended up with a do that was even more fabulous than I’d had in mind. I rode to work the next day (Sunday—I was on call) on the bus sitting near an alcohol-soaked fellow who said he was related to Clint Eastwood, and also that he owns the popular tourist destination Pier 23, which cast (additional) doubt on his original assertion. When Mason saw me (he had been on call the day before), he said, “Wow, you look like a movie star! Why are you looking so glamorous?”

In the hospital, a child of about four said something to me that I didn’t catch.

“What did you say?”

“Nice hairstyle!”

My mother scoffed at that later on the phone, but the child appeared to be a member of a culture that places a high value on courtesy and cordial relationships, so maybe the very first things such a child learns to say are “Please,” “Thank you,” “After you,” and “Nice hairstyle!”

I was supposed to lead an interfaith service at one of the medical center’s four campuses that morning, but just as I arrived by cab, I was paged to return to my usual campus for an emergency. There I was taken to a small room off the emergency department to meet with a woman who had traveled to San Francisco that weekend with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Sunday morning, the husband complained of chest pains, they called 911 and he was taken to our ER by ambulance. The wife followed in her own car and when she arrived, he was already dead. (She said he had been fit and trim, and someone who ate healthy food.)

One of my colleagues later said that this happens not infrequently, since San Francisco is a popular tourist destination. That it was their anniversary made it especially awful. One of their two children was able to come to the hospital before the man’s body was taken to the morgue. Hearing this young man’s last words to his already dead father was tremendously poignant; it made me cry.

Even as I feel more and more strongly impelled toward the adventure of a year of
clinical pastoral education at TWMC and what may lie beyond, and the more I dislike the picture of myself running back to my corporate job for purely selfish reasons, the more I wonder if a year of CPE is physically beyond me. Samantha has said many helpful things in the past six weeks, including one I have thought of often. On the very first day, in regard to our being asked to share about our lives and our feelings, she said that we are not obligated to divulge every detail just because someone has asked. “Share what you can share from a place of wellness,” she said. I think that is a good guideline for all of life. What work can I do from a place of wellness? What volunteering? What relationships?

I had Monday off due to being on call the day before and, for the first time since CPE began, swept the kitchen floor, vacuumed the carpeting, and cleaned the bathroom. It felt good to have things finally be clean again, but I noticed how stressed out I felt. Also, until that day, it had been a week or more since I’d done all the various physical therapy exercises and stretches I need to do in order to feel quite well. In the final weeks of this summer unit of CPE, I am going to try to see if I can do my exercises and do my work and get enough sleep and keep my house clean from a place of ease and wellness. If it’s simply not possible, that is something to be aware of. (Perfectionism and rigidity are also things to be aware of.) At TWMC, unlike where I am now, you don’t get the day off after being on call. If you’re on call Friday into Saturday, tough rocks—your weekend is one day. If you’re on call Sunday into Monday, also tough rocks—your weekend ends at 2 p.m. Sunday. If you’re on call Saturday into Sunday, then you do get a comp day, which you can use on Monday if you want.

Monday evening, Tom and I had burritos at La Corneta. I ran my decision past him and he seemed to be nodding every time I described another reason it would be extremely excellent for me to (try to) return to my corporate job, but it turned out that his advice regarding chaplaincy was “Stick with it.” He said he puts a high value on being able to help others, which he does in his own job as a teacher of special ed students, including many autistic students. The administrative assistant from my fantastic corporate job concurred. We exchanged emails this week, and she wrote, very kindly, “Continue the path—it will smooth out and be worth it. Your gift to others is your presence.”
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