Saturday, February 11, 2017

Death Doula

I saw one of the doctors at the student health service a week ago and was pleased to learn that my blood pressure is nice and low, and my resting pulse is 53. Since I was there to discuss a tiny but nagging pain in my abdomen, I was also pleased to learn that pancreatic cancer doesn’t normally present with pain. I liked this doctor, who said minor things tend to get better and major things tend to get worse, so we made an appointment for a month from now, just in case, and I’m going to keep a log. Whatever this was already seems to be lessening.

It is a well-known fact that doing a year of clinical pastoral education causes a 20-pound weight gain, so I was also happy to discover that, at the halfway mark, I have lost 3.5 pounds. Since I should have gained 10 pounds by now, this means I have lost 13.5 pounds. (Right?)

In the past week, Tom and I went to see Hidden Figures, which I enjoyed, and my friend Karen, having come by free tickets, treated me to the San Francisco Symphony’s Lunar New Year concert, preceded by pizza on Hayes St.

I’ve been kind of down lately. I think three units of clinical pastoral education in a row is catching up with me. I’m still allowing nine hours nightly for sleeping, which is normally enough, and my schedule doesn’t allow for any more than that, but every morning, I feel as if I could easily sleep for three more hours.

During units three and four, one lucky student apiece will get to do a palliative care rotation and be mentored by TWMC’s main palliative care chaplain. This was mentioned at the beginning of the program, and I immediately assumed I would want to do this, with my background as a hospice volunteer. We learned in the past week that in order to apply, we would have a giant pile of reading to do, and then take a test based on the reading. The first five people to take the test would be invited for an interview. Stress ensued, as we were now in direct competition with each other. One of our three peers whose first language is not English expressed discouragement—she said it takes her twice as long to read in English—and another person for whom English is a second language said he would not bother to apply at all.

I guess enough people complained that our supervisors decided to revamp the process, and now we simply have a deadline for finishing the reading and taking the test, and the five people with the highest test scores will be the ones to interview. I mention all of this in part because I think my gloom started right around the time this was announced.

I spent an hour with Patricia (the chaplain who led the enneagram session) this past week and she said she thought I’d be an excellent hospice chaplain. I mentioned that I’m thinking of pairing that with being a bereavement counselor and she said those fit nicely together, and if I have an entrepreneurial streak (which I really don’t), I might think about being a death doula in private practice. A doula provides physical and emotional support during and after childbirth. A death doula would accompany a person who’d gotten a terminal diagnosis. I could totally see myself doing that.

I mentioned that once CPE is over, I’m planning to do the two-year program at Upaya Zen Center (in New Mexico, where it’s sunny!) and I hope to work two days a week as a chaplain. Upaya requires volunteering, so I thought I would do the Sojourn chaplaincy training at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and volunteer there, but Patricia mentioned the Zen Hospice Project, lately enjoying a higher profile due to an article in The New York Times Magazine about B.J. Miller (“One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die”). (Also probably now thousands of people want to marry B.J. Miller, who is extremely attractive.) (One of my peers used to work at Zen Hospice and can text B.J. Miller at will.)

Patricia said the Sojourn program is excellent, but noted that the Zen Hospice Project has a national reputation, and the lights in my grasping little brain lit up: ZHP will look great on my resume! Doing the palliative care rotation ditto! But right after that conversation is when I started to feel gloomy, and more so when I heard about having to do hours of speed reading in order to try to beat my colleagues to the finish line. I was very glad when I found out that won’t be necessary, but I still feel that something is not right here. Do I actually want to be a palliative care chaplain, let alone a death doula? Or even a chaplain at all?

However, one of our supervisors pointed out that we can be accepted into the palliative care rotation but decide not to do it, and it seems silly to close that door prematurely, so I am planning to do the reading (much of it the kind of dense academic stuff I normally avoid) and to take the test, and we’ll see. We have already had a couple of sessions on palliative care and will have at least a couple more, so it’s not like we’re not going to learn something about this. If my test score is not among the top five, at least I will have learned something by doing all that reading. We have to write a one-page statement of interest in the training, as well, so I’m also working on that.
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