When I got back to work after visiting Michigan, I was kind of slow to get back into seeing patients. I cheated, sort of, by spending hours with an elderly man who was expected to die soon, sort of a one-chaplain no-one-dies-alone effort. I sat by the patient’s bedside for hours over the course of a few days, speaking and singing softly to him in Spanish. I told him, “I’m here; you are not alone” and “Everything is all right.” He seemed to get more agitated when I said that God loves him, though he is listed as Catholic, so I stopped saying that. When he writhed around and yelled, at first weakly and later producing no sound at all, I sympathized: “This is difficult.”
Eventually, I had to get back to my assigned duties—the dying patient isn’t even on one of my units; I must have first encountered him while on call—and found myself in distress with a patient who has had several surgeries. I felt boiling hot and weak and my stomach felt weird. I felt like I needed to sit down even though I was already siting down, and I thought, “I can't do this” and further that I probably can’t be a chaplain at all if I can’t listen to disturbing medical stories. Right?
Au contraire! It turns out that others in my group have the exact same response; one even said she doesn’t like to hear about or see medical stuff.
The person who is on call in the evening runs the morning meeting the next day, at which we go over who is on call at which campus, who is leading the noon mindfulness session and which priest is on duty, etc. Afterward, this person sends an email to everyone with all of that information, and sometimes takes the opportunity to prepend his or her own message, as I did the morning after the election. (Speaking of that, faithless electors! Or maybe Twitter will cancel Trump’s account per its anti-bullying policies.) The on-call chaplain was evidently in an exuberant mood one morning last week. Her email started, “We’re ALIVE!”