Monday, December 18, 2006
The First Four ED Sonnets
I wrote sonnets yesterday when I probably should have been doing other things (like answering e-mail: sorry about that, Lee!). Gary likes these and thinks I should post them. They're pretty rough, but Gary said, "Well, that's part of the point, right?" I told him that sonnets were small bottles in which to hold big moments, and he said, "That's well put. You should post that description on your blog." So I have.
Rereading these, I realize that they may not sound very pious or spiritual or however a chaplain's "supposed" to sound. There's a definite accent that many (not all) chaplains seem to acquire -- inhumanly calm, serenely faithful, slightly otherworldly -- but I've never been able to pick it up.
First stop’s the chaplain’s office, a small space
with sink and closet, sign-in book, and shelves
piled high with treats for patients, and ourselves:
tissues and crayons (vehicles of grace),
ten kinds of prayer cards, plastic rosaries –-
in Easter colors, made by volunteers --
a stack of Bibles. This is where my fears
begin each week, the panicky unease
about what’s waiting for me. Never mind.
I’ll find out when I get there. Here’s the slip
of paper that will purchase a small snack
if, later, I need sugar to unwind,
kill time, or celebrate. And now the trip
downstairs. Breathe. In four hours, I’ll be back.
Emergency Trauma Family Consult Room
This hallway leading to Emergency
goes on forever, free (this time of night)
of patients, but I look ahead and see
an open door -- that room -- the spill of light,
and now I hear soft sobbing, step inside,
say, “I’m the chaplain; can I help you?” “Yes,
you can, dear.” Resolute and dignified,
she tells me that the doctors cannot guess
her husband’s outcome, if he’ll even live.
“It’s bad,” she says. I know. This room is where
we send them when it’s bad. “I’ll check, and give
you any news I learn,” I promise her.
We pray and hug. She’s tear-wracked and adrift.
This is the worst way to begin a shift.
The code room’s chaos, even if contained,
a sea of feet beneath the curtain drawn
for privacy. The staff stay calm. They’re trained
for this. (At least here: I remember one
nurse on another floor who said, “I can’t
deal with the drama. Codes just aren’t my thing.”)
I wait and watch outside, bide time -- don’t want
to be a pest -- pray for encouraging
news for the wife, if any’s to be had.
And here’s the doc, a nice one, purposeful
but kind. “What news?” She grimaces. It’s bad,
I think, but then she says, “He’s critical,
but stable. Vitals good.” “Good! May I tell
his wife?” “Of course.” For now, we’ve side-stepped hell.
The wife’s incredibly relieved. I muse
on how this place destroys all everyday
proportion, old perspectives swept away,
“he’s on a ventilator” better news
than “nothing worked,” both fates you’d never choose.
The choices here are grim, the least delay
of death a gift. The wife says, “No, don’t stay;
so many others need you.” That’s a ruse
we often hear, polite dismissal, but
she means it. Late, I sign the ED board
in marker: “Chaplain: Susan, 5 to 9.”
The charge nurse says, “We’ve got a kid who cut
herself. The mom’s got problems too.” “Oh, Lord,”
a medic groans. I’m on it; this one’s mine.