Last week I got to watch our per diem palliative care chaplain in action and was very impressed. Her bedside manner was lovely: relaxed, warm, and even affectionate without seeming (to me) intrusive. The patient stated clearly that he had no religious or spiritual beliefs. I thought the chaplain conducted the conversation very skillfully, with clear comprehension of what was important in what the patient was saying and fruitful use of open-ended questions. I was surprised that she returned a couple of times to the topic of spirituality / religion, asking what had become of the patient’s childhood faith. Late in the conversation, she brought it up again, and I wondered if this was going a bit too far, but, lo and behold, the patient recounted two extremely powerful experiences featuring priests, crying while telling both stories. These were the deepest and most moving parts of the visit.
Delia and I discussed again my trip to the morgue, and the unexpected sight I saw there (there is a post mentioning this below). She spelled out clearly that, while we might at times feel upset when experiencing secondary trauma, we also might not perceive anything amiss at all, though we might have clues in the form of disturbed sleep, or recurring images, or the reluctance to go to a certain place. She said it is important to be alert to the fact that we might have an interior injury we cannot feel, and that we should seek first aid—talk to someone else—sooner rather than later. I realized I need to be more alert about situations that could potentially cause secondary trauma, to take this seriously.
This caused me to wonder about any trauma associated with being with dead people. At this point, I have probably been with 20-25 dead people, and it always seems like kind of a big deal. It doesn’t seem particularly emotionally upsetting, and I don’t have bad dreams about it, but I can easily bring back to mind the sight of certain dead people (while I can’t remember the appearance of others at all). I wonder if it is slightly traumatizing, and if I should make a point of mentioning such moments to my supervisor or other supportive person, just in case.
On Friday, there was a Bay Area conference that I got to attend with Delia and several other people from work. Palliative care doctors, social workers, nurses and chaplains from the Truly Wonderful Medical Center (where I am a CPE student), the V.A., and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital met at a funeral home, crematory and cemetery in Mill Valley for a day of improv games, getting to know each other, writing exercises, and a grief ritual at the end of the day. The place was really beautiful, and the whole day was a nice treat. After lunch, Delia led a rest meditation which starts with the instruction to find a still, blank place in what we see with our eyes closed and rest our attention there. I need to ask her what the other instructions are, because I fell soundly asleep right after she said that.