On Wednesday I had lunch at Cafe La Boheme with Jonas, my fellow staff chaplain. We each had a salad. He is our palliative care chaplain and it occurred to me that I hadn't told him about my palliative care rotation during CPE, so I did that, and while I was at it, I told him about the special award I got at graduation, for persistence and creativity in developing the head and heart as reliable instruments of spiritual caregiving.
"That's a nice way of saying it," he responded, and I felt a bit stung. It sounds kind of ludicrous in retrospect, but I was sure he meant, "That's a nice way of saying you're emotion-challenged." But I swallowed my sense of hurt and agreed, "That is a nice way of saying it." And then I resolved never to have lunch with him again: jerk.
But then I remembered a conversation two days earlier with my beloved CPE peer, Tony. Over breakfast, he told me about having an unpleasant interaction with a member of a group he has just joined and how he reminded himself that, after CPE training, he is equipped to deal with this, and he has resolved that he will not let conflicts fester, so he is making ready to talk to this person.
Accordingly, I called Jonas the next day and said I wasn't sure what he'd meant. He explained that he'd literally, sincerely meant that that was a nice way of expressing that idea. "I wasn't saying it sideways," he assured me. In turn, I told him that I'm touchy about this, because it's always been easier for me to lead with my head, and so I have to work harder to get my emotions involved. (Well, except for anger. That emotion always seems quite easy to access.) Our exchange was brief and satisfying.
On Friday at County Hospital, now on a roll, I spoke with my fellow volunteer who'd responded to the anecdote I was on the verge of telling a month ago by saying, "Enough. Enough." That really made me angry, and I still felt annoyed the next time I saw her, and the time after that, which was Friday, so I asked if we could speak after our team meeting. We went outside—it was a beautiful day—and I started by saying I wanted to talk to her because I want us to have a good relationship.
I reminded her of the exchange and said it had made me feel like I was being put down, and I said it had made me angry. She responded in a very open-hearted manner and said that she understood completely, and she apologized. I'd thought she was going to respond angrily, but it was quite the reverse. In fact, it almost seemed as if she was flagellating herself more than the situation would warrant. I'd thought of a couple of reasons she might not have wanted to hear my anecdote, but it turned out it was something else entirely.
I visited just three patients that day, one very briefly; one for about 15 minutes, limping along in English and Spanish; and one for quite some time. Whereas at my paying job there is an emphasis on initial visits and trying to find out about the spiritual needs of as many patients as possible, at County Hospital there are no such instructions, so I have the luxury to sit around with one person for an hour or more, which I really appreciate. I can do that at work, too, but there might be a conversation with my boss later about why I felt the visit had to be so long. The patient I spent such a long time with on Friday had recently had a body part amputated and said she was grieving for it: "It's like losing a loved one."
At the end of the day, my erstwhile nemesis told a few of us in the office that it would be her birthday this weekend. She told us what age she is turning, and we assured her—truthfully—that she looks younger. I walked out with her, and thanked her again for processing with me, and we parted with much good feeling.