While I was at County Hospital one day late in May, I got a text from Clementine saying that the ED was on lockdown and could I go check it out? I texted back, “Do you want me to enter the ED?” I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to go in and conduct a hostage negotiation or what. Presumably she didn’t intend for me to get my head blown off, so I wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted me to do. I didn’t hear back from her, and when I got near the ED, nothing appeared to be amiss.
I went in and saw sheriffs taking a barricade away from one of the entrances, and a staff member said the lockdown was all clear. Later I mentioned it to one of my fellow volunteers, and she said, “Yeah, that happens all the time.”
I told Clementine about having attended the training on psychological first aid, and she invited me to join the hospital’s disaster response team, or MCI (Multiple Casualty Incident) team, which I agreed to do.
Up on one of the units, a nurse told me that one of her patients seemed silent and withdrawn, and she asked if I would visit him. The patient was sitting up on the edge of his bed, and he did indeed seem to be downcast. I asked if I could sit down and then I just sat there quietly for some time. After a while, I said, “You seem kind of sad.” He nodded his head just slightly. I added, “It looks like you’re feeling kind of discouraged,” and he nodded at that, too. Then he started talking—about his disappointment that the Warriors had lost their game the previous night. Sounding stunned, he said, “I didn’t think that was going to happen.”
However, as the very leisurely visit unfolded, he shared about some physical symptoms he was having that he hadn’t told his nurse about. He said that, where he’s from, if you say you need help with anything, people lose respect for you. While I was there, he pushed his nurse call button and told her about his symptoms. It wasn’t necessary for me to tell him to do that. It was necessary for him to hear himself say aloud that he was in pain and that it’s hard for him to let people know he is having difficulties.
After that, I thought, OK, I think I’ve got it! There is nothing I can fix. The idea is to sit there, with patience and stillness, until whatever the wound is comes into view. I went off to see other patients thinking that I would do the exact same thing, and then of course found that what had worked in one visit had little utility in any other. Nonetheless, I like the idea of being quiet and patient, waiting for things to emerge on their own: whatever is bothering the patient, and also her resources and wholeness.
One evening, just after I turned off the light to go to sleep: beep beep beep! My work pager going off. I called the pager operator, who put me through to a nurse who said that a patient’s mother wanted to speak to a chaplain on the phone. My enthusiasm was whole-hearted, since the alternative was getting up, getting dressed again, and taking a cab back to work. “I would love to talk to her on the phone!”