I finished my first 28-hour shift with all-night on-call session at the hospital this week and it was quite a wild ride.
After visiting with patients all day, I was on-call for exactly 3 minutes before the first call to a terminal patient and family came in. I rushed to the ER and met with and prayed with the family and the patient for a couple of hours. After the family had to go home, I would continue to drop by the patient’s room and pray with them every few hours – even though they were unconscious. There is something amazing about walking down a perfectly quite, dark, and almost abandoned ICU at 2am, stop in to pray with someone who is unconscious and you know only has a short time left.
I had a few more smaller trauma visits (non-terminal) and then about mid-shift another patient came in. The accident was minor; but it got worse and worse until it was clear the person wasn’t going to make it – a total shock. I stayed with the family and the patient until the person passed away a few hours later. Ah, then there were the individuals that thought the best way to determine the paternity of their child was to fight it out in the parking lot. Welcome to level 1 trauma.
I would often just wander through the ER and talk to the lucid patients and families – some of whom were very funny and joking around. We also had an on-call room which we could sit, take naps, and wait until calls came in. It’s on the top floor of the building overlooking Portland. I watched the sun come up and break across the city. It was so beautiful and I wished I’d brought my camera. I’ll definitely remember it the next time. After running such I long shift, I went home and slumped into bed completely exhausted. I’m just now processing all that happened and where God was in all of it. It is quite overwhelming; but amazing at the same time.
We do spiritual journaling and verbatims to sort through all the emotion, spiritual movement, and just plain raw input. It’s amazing how experiences like this pull up every one of your own fears, sense of mortality, shortcomings, joys, strengths, and weaknesses. You will deal with the death or life of the loved one just as much as the family or the patient themselves. It showed me that in this kind of work you will go through all the things that the people coming in with are going through. You enter into each pain, terminal diagnosis, fear, tear, joy, relief, joking and every other emotion yourself. Yet, it’s amazing how people will let you come and enter into the most intimate parts of their families – even deeper than doctors or the nurses are allowed. Just walking in and saying you are the staff chaplain they called for immediately changes the tone: softening, opening, and calming the room. It was interesting how there would be a kind of ‘parting the waters’ as you enter and everyone leave you with the family. There was a sense of other-ness to the place you enter. You truly enter a sacred and intimate space – it is almost palpable. But the question it leaves the chaplain is if we have the courage to really enter that space and share all those experiences with people – again and again – often powerless to do anything practical but be in the moment with them and go through all of it with them. It’s a good question.
After Lazarus, Jesus’ friend dies, he goes to visit the tomb and his sister who is grieving in tears the brother who died. The first thing that Jesus does is to weep. I think I understand why now.