A day early in December was my first time visiting my new units at my paying job, including the medical-surgical ICU. It is a cramped, airless place, with very few places to chart unless you are a bedside nurse or the charge nurse. I now understand even more why nurses are always thinking about their next vacation, and why many of them like to spend their time off in nature: somewhere quiet, fresh, seemingly untouched by man. I remember a hospital priest saying he liked to spend his weekends contemplating the works of God rather than the works of man.
Before work a couple of days later, I told myself to stop scratching a chronically itchy spot in the middle of my upper back lest it trigger a horrible autoimmune response that might rage out of control. Later that very day, I heard about someone who started out with psoriasis and was dead of cancer six months later.
My co-palliative care chaplain, Merlin, was busy with a family situation, so I attended rounds in the three ICUs, which happen consecutively. For some reason, standing while talking to a patient rarely makes me feel tired, whereas standing in a rounds meeting makes me feel exhausted after about two minutes. I think it’s because most of the details are not directly pertinent to my endeavor, and also, I can’t quite hear half of what is said, since the speaker is trying to be somewhat discreet. Her words probably reach the three people closest to her with reasonable clarity, less so everyone else, so I spend most of the meeting straining to hear and wishing I could sit down. Afterward, I feel totally enervated. Too bad these meetings happen first thing in the morning.
Merlin and I met after rounds and divided up the ICU patients who seemed to need a visit, per what I picked up at rounds (e.g., “combative,” “thinking of leaving against medical advice”), and then it was lunchtime. I had packed my lunch, as always, but, as never, forgot to bring it, so Merlin and I had lunch in the cafeteria. We went through the food line separately but, when we were seated, found we had ordered almost exactly the same thing.
At the end of the day, I had a one-on-one meeting with my boss, maybe our third of the year, and our last. She asked if I would like to be the electronic health record guru once she’s gone, training new people in charting. I leapt at that opportunity: sounds fun. She also asked if I would consider applying for one of the two full-time chaplain positions open at the time, but I said I really cannot while I’m in school and volunteering at County Hospital. Volunteering is required by school, but just 100 hours total, and I have already exceeded that. However, working with the palliative care interdisciplinary team at County Hospital is a huge honor and superb educational opportunity. Also, I just like it there.
I took a cab home—time is of the essence now that I work four days a week—and was asked by the cab driver what I do. I said I’m a hospital chaplain and he said, “Huh! I was thinking you were a nun.” I asked why he thought that and expected him to say my modest attire or no-nonsense hairdo, but he said, “The mood.” Very flattering.
I’m glad I still was emitting a nun-like vibe even while brooding about the conversation with my boss, which I started to do right after I left her office. It is possible that the new boss will get rid of us per diems in favor of full-time people, and I can all too readily picture myself six months from now unemployed and asking myself why on earth I turned down a full-time job in my new field. If I had decided to take the job, I could have explained the situation to County Hospital and of course they would have understood. Working full-time while going to school would be challenging, but it would only be for another year.
I knocked on Tom’s door when I got home and asked what he thought. At first, he seemed to think I should apologize to County Hospital and take the job, but then he agreed that working full-time while going to school would just be too much, and that other opportunities will come along.