Saturday, February 12, 2011
We had a bad code at the hospital today, one that shook staff as well as family. "This is so surreal," a sobbing relative said later. "You know this day has to come sometime, but you never expect it now."
There were other surreal elements of the shift: a bewildered adult clutching a brightly colored pamphlet entitled "A Parent's Guide to Child Protective Services!"; the two nurses who begged me not to visit a difficult patient who'd finally dropped off to sleep; the patient who, when I said I was the chaplain, said rather crossly, "I just want to know where I'll go after I die."
"Are you afraid of dying?"
"Are you afraid of where you'll go when you do?"
"No! I just want information!" This was said in a tone suggesting that I ought to be able to hand over a brightly colored pamphlet ("A Patient's Guide to the Afterlife!") with precise directions, if not schedules and fares.
I launched into a rather lame disquisition about how nobody really knows anything about the afterlife, but people who've had near-death experiences often report feelings of profound love and peace. The patient responded with eye-rolling and loud sighs. "Forget it! I'm sorry I asked!"
The patient may have been looking for comforting Bible verses about heaven, but cozy piety isn't my style (and I truly believe that's usually a strength in this work). I have no illusions about having all the answers, and I don't pretend I do. That patient needed another kind of chaplain.
All in all, not one of my better shifts. Luckily, a staff chaplain and at least two other volunteers were in the building to do some of the heavy lifting. And next week, weather permitting -- although we're now expecting more storms, oy! -- I'll be on vacation.
Some friends are coming over later for movie night; we're watching "You Only Live Twice" as part of our Bond series. That kind of silliness is exactly what I need right now.