The day after I talked to Carol Joy’s husband, Bill, I talked to my 40-year friend, Chantal (let us call her). She and I haven’t had our conversation about racism and colorblindness yet, what with one thing and another (new job and sciatica on her part, clinical pastoral education on my part), but we will, and we are both enthusiastic about having more hard conversations and understanding each other better and feeling closer. I told her all about CPE—we hadn’t talked since it started—and I said I know it’s lame to return to a corporate job and that you’re supposed to follow your heart. “It doesn’t sound like this is in your heart,” she said. “It doesn’t sound like this is giving you joy.”
After those two conversations, it felt entirely settled that I would finish the summer CPE program and then try to get another job with my former company. I had a variety of positions there and think the ones I enjoyed most were the ones where I was providing technical support and training, and getting to write documentation. Maybe I could have another job like that, there or somewhere else.
Monday morning I was thinking about the difference between responding, or making conscious choices, from a calm place and reacting from an anxious place. I am noticing pieces of my dharma practice kicking back in as the shock of starting CPE abates. Practicing metta for myself is very helpful. When I think, “May I be happy,” at least those are three seconds when I’m not worrying or fixating on something negative.
I saw in M.I.’s chart on Monday that she is a “wondering / flight risk” (the person meant to write “wandering”) and therefore has a sitter with her all the time. As written, it seems to describe my current situation perfectly. Another patient, I saw, has a “necrotic stump.” Fortunately, I don’t have that yet.
Naturally, as soon as I felt I had complete permission not to be a chaplain, I began to remember how much I kind of love it. I got a call to go see a man in the medical-surgical ICU, which is a very intense place. I didn’t read his chart first and was kind of shocked when I saw his dull eyes and hanging-open mouth. I spoke to him and at first he made sustained eye contact, but he never said anything and then he stopped looking at me, so I excused myself and called the person who had sent me there to find out who had wanted what for this patient. The social worker explained that his current state is his “baseline”—normal way of being—but that he does enjoy being visited and having people talk to him. She told me where he lives and said he likes baseball and the movies. OK! I went back in there and started chatting away: “I know you live at such-and-such place. I’m sorry you’re stuck in the hospital today. I hope you get to go back to such-and-such place soon. I’m sorry I don’t have anything intelligent to say about baseball, but my boyfriend is a Warriors fan,” etc., and during all this, the patient was looking at me directly, and then he became quite animated, making faces and waving his arms. He appeared to be trying to smile and to talk.
When I ran out of things to say, I told him it had been nice visiting with him and that I’d try to see him again, and as I turned away, he whispered, “Hi.” I turned back and he said it again: “Hi.”
“I hear you saying ‘hi.’ Thank you for saying ‘hi’ to me!”
He said it over and over, louder and louder, first whispering, then in full voice, and then pretty much yelling. When I walked out of his room, a couple of nurses were looking in our direction with quizzical expressions on their faces, as if to say, “What on earth is that?” It was immensely gratifying.