On Tuesday, I went for the first time to the presentation a palliative care fellow does every morning at 8:40 a.m. This one was on pain management. The other two attendees were the fellow’s medical students, and the pace was very fast. I was scribbling notes and found it fascinating. I am going to get to go to medical school twenty minutes at a time for the next couple of months! This I did not expect. Delia also told me on Monday that I will need to learn a lot about medicine.
I didn’t go to rounds on Tuesday because I was having my own mid-year consultation, which was fantastic. It was my own supervisor, Anita; my dear friend Jack (who I see for bodywork and who I have known for 30 years; he is a longtime Buddhist meditator, as well); one of my young peers from the other campus, Nicholas, who is now also in my own small group; and a member of our professional advisory group I’d never met before but who I liked very much immediately. He is a psychologist who has been affiliated with the hospital for 40 years. He was delightful, and the whole meeting was very warm and friendly. I enjoyed it.
At the beginning, I stepped out of the room while they framed the discussion, and at the end, I stepped out again while they compiled a list of my strengths and of my opportunities for growth, which Anita then read aloud to me. There were more of the former than the latter. I felt that I was treated very generously, and Anita seemed pleased with how I had presented myself.
In the afternoon, our whole group of students went to a church across town for a half-day retreat. The church recently had their stained-glass windows cleaned and they were gorgeous. We had a delicious Mediterranean lunch, and colored mandalas (yep) (I’m chuckling), and then had 90 minutes of free time. I walked with one of our supervisors in the Presidio, where we saw an Andy Goldsworthy artwork made of tree trunks. It was a lovely, sunny, clear day. After the supervisor needed to turn back, I found a bench and read my New Yorker.
I remember once at the end of a meditation retreat Jack Kornfield asking us to make eye contact with another person but not to do the “deep soul stare.” When we reconvened at the end of the day on Tuesday, they asked us to do the deep soul stare. Each of us got a chance to stand opposite every other person and look into that person’s eyes and connect for a good long minute or two. Once upon a time I would have found that excruciating, but it seemed easy this week. Actually, it was nice, and very nice in the case of certain people.
On Wednesday, I went to the teaching session and to rounds, and visited three patients with one of the palliative care doctors. I got in two fights with Sam—we have a strong sibling dynamic—and resolved two fights with Sam. He suggested that maybe we should sit down with Anita, and I said I was willing to do that, but also that I think we have sufficient communication skills to continue processing our fights, and he decided that he agreed. He said, “We got this.”
That day we also had didactics on grief (led by Delia, using poetry) and on medical ethics, led by Paul, the director of the spiritual care department.
On Thursday I observed while Delia visited some patients and was startled by the complete change in her personality. She tends to be quiet and to take in many minutes of input before she comments, so I was surprised to see how warmly affectionate she became with patients, touching them freely. I plan to ask her about this: was that always an aspect of her personality? Did she consciously work to develop it, or did it just sort of happen over many years of being a palliative care chaplain?