On the day I was supposed to shadow the other chaplain in the ED at County Hospital, I arrived at 8:45 a.m. instead of 12:30 p.m., but it turned out the other chaplain was out. At first Clementine said I should just go to another unit, and she also took me to the ICU to introduce me to some of the nurses there, but when I asked if I could just go to the ED on my own, she said that would be all right.
I wandered around trying to get the lay of the land, checking in with the social workers and at the three different “pods,” as Clementine had instructed, and visiting with a patient or two. Maybe six different patients had police officers or sheriffs outside their rooms. One was wailing and looked quite miserable (the patient, not the police officer). I asked if I could visit and the officer said, “Sure, but keep your distance. He likes to swing his fists.” I went into the little room and the patient immediately beckoned me nearer, nearer. I stayed just out of reach and asked how he was doing. He said he was hungry and that his handcuffed wrist hurt and that he needed “everything—I need everything.” I conducted some of the conversation in Spanish. After a while, I asked if he would like a Bible and he said he would, an English version (though clearly his first language was Spanish).
When I stepped out of the room, a doctor immediately approached and said, “I noticed you were visiting with that patient. What did he say?” I said that he had said he was hungry and that his wrist hurt and that he wanted to go home. She said, “You’re the first person who’s been able to talk to him without him getting upset.” That was gratifying.
I fetched him a Bible in English, and also a Nuestro Pan Diario (in English, Our Daily Bread), a little publication that has an entry for each day with accompanying Bible verses. When I returned, he was eating a bag of nuts and the handcuff attaching him to the bed railing had been moved to his other wrist! So there you go: chaplaincy does actually do some good. He opened the Bible to a random page and began reading in halting English, which was rather touching. The police officer said kindly, “That’s very good.”
Later I encountered a man on a gurney in the hallway whose face was dripping with blood. One eye was swollen shut and one side of his head looked kind of mashed in. He told me his name and I told him mine and observed, “You have had a mishap.” This wasn’t the same as seeing someone with half their head blown off or their intestines trailing along the floor, but I was pleased to note that it was effortless to focus on the person rather than his injuries, and that the sight of the blood was not itself preoccupying or perturbing.