Monday, August 08, 2011

Today's Keeper

Among volunteer chaplains, it's axiomatic that even one good visit a shift means it was worth coming to the hospital that day. Some volunteers say all their shifts include a visit like that. Mine don't -- some shifts are dull, and some are exhausting and infuriating -- but today's did.

A nurse told me a psych patient had asked for a chaplain. The patient brightened when I introduced myself. "I'm glad you're here. I've been waiting for you. Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Why's God letting me suffer like this?"

Oh, man. Theodicy 101. "I don't know. I do know that it's okay to ask questions, and it's okay to be angry. You can yell at God. God can take it."

The patient nodded. "That makes sense. That's a good enough answer for me."

I relaxed, since that particular subject usually gets a lot more complicated. "Would you like me to pray with you?"

"I don't know how to pray."

"That's okay; I do. It's kind of what I do around here." The patient laughed, and I offered my standard-prayer-with-personalization (you can find my Hospital Prayer 101 post here).

By the end of the prayer, the patient was crying. That happens pretty often, so I'm used to it. When other people have prayed over me, especially for healing, I've sometimes cried too: there's something about a) knowing that your concerns have been heard and b) handing them over to Somebody Else that tends to release the floodgates.

I handed the patient some tissues. "Here, you can keep the pack. This is something else I do around here."

The patient laughed again. "Can I tell you something?"

"Of course."

"That prayer moved me more than any prayer I've ever heard."

"Thank you!" I said, floored. Patients often say "that was a nice prayer" or even "that was beautiful," but I'm not used to superlatives.

"May I have a hug?"

"Of course," I said, and hugged the patient, and then moved on to the rest of what was a fairly chaotic, and intermittently crappy, shift. But it was okay. I had my keeper. It mattered to someone that I showed up today.

Please note that I'm not claiming any special skills here: I think any chaplain who walked into that room would have had the same effect, since the patient was clearly primed and eager for the visit. But I'm selfishly glad that I was the one who was there. It's also axiomatic among volunteer chaplains -- and volunteers in general -- that we get much more than we give.


  1. You said: I think any chaplain who walked into that room would have had the same effect, since the patient was clearly primed and eager for the visit.

    But you were there. You mentioned Theodicy 101 and Hospital Prayer 101 above. I've been reminded from multiple directions recently that Love 101 is "show up."

  2. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Dear Susan,

    I have thought of you often over the last week - Wednesday night I went to the er as a patient for the first time after being there before only ever as a visitor. I took a bad fall off my bike on a bad hill, I arrived by way of an ambulance, and although I left the hospital on my own feet in a friend's car, I expect there will be weeks and likely months of physical therapy for my left shoulder, where I seem to have strained or sprained my rotator cuff in a way that really restricts my range of motion. Ouch.

    I was very lucky - and not only because I still have all my consciousness and the use of all my limbs and the attention of all the hospital's world-class doctors and nurses and lab techs and the insurance to pay for all the tests they all took over the hours that I spent with them, but also because of the constant presence of the many passing friends and strangers who variously called the ambulance, sat with me while we waited for it to arrive, came with me to the hospital, stayed with me in the emergency room, and brought me cold water and warm blankets. I have never been so grateful for cold water and warm blankets.

    Bless you for all the work you do in the er, whether your patients thank you for it or not.

  3. So sorry you had to go to the ER, although I'm glad people brought you cold water and warm blankets. Heal quickly!


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