Monday, July 18, 2016

Tattooed Fingers

Last Thursday in class, we presented the mid-unit self-evaluations we’d written, which also included a paragraph or two about each of our peers and about Samantha. It was nice to be able to tell my peers what I like about them (and also to ask Mason to please come to work on time, which he never does, even when he’s on call) and to hear what they like about me. Andrew said he feels closer to me than to anyone else in our group of four (which includes Samantha). There was a lot of frank sharing that afternoon. As we were wrapping up, Mason said to me, “This is your future career. You have a gift.”

On Friday, I went to see a patient who has always been asleep when I’ve peeked in her room. I heard a nurse go in there, say something and come out, and figured the patient would certainly be awake, so I knocked and went in and she grumbled, “Look what happens right after I ask them to close my door.”

“You ask them to close your door and the whole world comes in,” I sympathized.

She was extremely skinny and covered with tattoos, including on each of her fingers. She said the doctors hadn’t thought she would make it through the previous night, but “Here I am.” I had read in her chart about a prior occasion of her leaving the hospital against medical advice and other things that made it sound as if she’s a difficult patient and as if the nurses and doctors don’t like her. I’d say the feeling is mutual. I suspected our talk would last 30 seconds, but felt I should try, and we ended up talking for 20 minutes. I thought she was quite charming. She said she was worried about her young son being without her. She said she had seen another “monk,” but didn’t want to talk to him. She said she liked talking to me and asked for my name and the phone number of the spiritual care department, which I gave her. When I said “Bye” at the end of our visit, she said, “Don’t ever say ‘Bye.’ Say ‘See you later’ or ‘Talk to you later.’”

Andrew wrote in his mid-term that he has been projecting onto the concept of chaplaincy, to his detriment, and I realized I have very much been doing the same: chaplaincy is done by boring Christians with frumpy hairdos and involves chatting about the Bible. As I slowly wake up in this new setting, I’m starting to ask myself what Buddhist contemplative or spiritual care looks like. I do have an entire book on this very subject, which I did read before starting clinical pastoral education and will consult again. And, yes, I see my negative attitudes about Christians, and those are changing, too. I imagine most of the people at the conference a couple of weeks ago were Christians, since most chaplains are, and they didn’t seem boring. They seemed inspired, warm and enthusiastic. Mason is a devout Episcopalian and brings tremendous resources of prayer to his caregiving. In this environment, I get to think about this more and can increasingly honor the beliefs of others, which obviously are just as precious and meaningful to them as mine are to me.

In addition, I am providing spiritual care to persons of all faiths and I am happy to pray to the Lord if that is what is comforting to a patient. I do that quite often. And I also need to inquire, as Samantha has been encouraging since the beginning of this program, into how my own theology, or dharmology, provides a foundation for providing spiritual care. It seems to me that the basic practices of Buddhism are to see things as they are and to be kind to ourselves and others. One of the most fundamental truths in Buddhism is that suffering does exist, both built-in and optional, and that this suffering has causes, and that we can end the optional suffering and improve our ability to cope with inevitable suffering (including illness, aging and death) by understanding the causes of suffering and abandoning them. That, I would say, provides a very ample foundation for providing spiritual care, even if I never mention any of this explicitly to any patient.

I got a letter from TWMC which made it clear that there will not be time during the day for writing assignments, but on the other hand, the day there is 30 minutes shorter, so that might balance out. It also said we get 15 days off during the unit, but they might not be the days off we want; that’s at their discretion.
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