I visited a patient who has dinner every single night (when she’s not in the hospital) with a group of women neighbors who have all lost their husbands. Each night, one of them cooks dinner and has the others over and does all the cleaning up, so that the others don’t have to do anything whatsoever. They enjoy each other’s company, and the next night, it’s someone else’s turn.
She said that when she lived in the house before the one she lives in now, her neighbors didn’t like each other, so she went around and said, fibbing, to each neighbor, “That person said something good about you,” and soon everyone liked each other. I was dazzled by her kind intentions and her community-building skills. I told her, “I don’t know if you feel better, but I certainly do.”
I also visited a patient who has demons in various parts of her body, which appears to be a very disagreeable experience. This was at the psychiatric institute. When I’m on call on a Sunday, which seems to be quite often, I typically get paged to go see a list of four or five psychiatric patients. I picture one patient saying, “I want to see the chaplain,” and every other patient within earshot saying, “Me, too! I want to see the chaplain, too!”
I’ve sometimes had a bad attitude about this phenomenon, which does not occur with medical patients, because they are one to a room in most cases. I feel grumpy about what could have been one visit turning into four visits (meaning that a proper lunch break is that much more elusive), and I have found myself thinking, “What’s the point? It’s not like I’m going to be able to do anything for them.” But then I realized it’s not like I can do anything for anyone else, either! (Picture a smiley face here.) Probably all I offer most patients is nothing more than a friendly presence and the willingness to listen, and I can offer the exact same to psychiatric patients.
Nonetheless, on call yesterday, when I got a request to go see four psychiatric patients, I felt resistant at first—again?!—but what could I do? I tromped over there and found that the first person didn’t want to get out of bed. One down! The second person was the one with demons, and we had quite a long and interesting talk. At the end, I offered to pray for the spirit of Jesus to be with her, but she asked what denomination I am, and when I told her I’m Buddhist, she said we’d better skip that, because messing around with Buddhism in the past has caused her to have hallucinations. She encouraged me to think about accepting Jesus Christ as my savior. I thanked her for the advice, saying, “You never know what will happen.”
Then a thought suddenly came to her: “How old are you?” I told her I’m 54, and her face lit up, and she said, “I knew it! I had a feeling you were younger than me. That means you’re my little sister and I’m your big sister and I have to take care of you!”
The next patient proved to be very endearing, and the last of the four was facing her first holidays after the death of a beloved parent. She said she felt better just being able to talk about her parent and her feelings. Instead of it being some sort of chore to make these visits, I left feeling rather joyful.