Yesterday, Thursday August 13th, was the final day for CPE. I am ever so glad.
The most significant moment of CPE, at least as of right now, has to be the following:
I walked up to my floor and got the census from the unit secretary. As I walked around the nurses’ station, there was a man standing there who did not look too happy. I walked past him and did some paper work. When finished, I walked past the man once again and acknowledged him and he said, “Hey, I want to talk to you.” “Okay,” I thought, “what is going to happen here.” He complained quite vigorously about the nurses who he said were ignoring him, being rude to him, and treating his wife badly. He said she had just been transferred from the ICU and had soiled herself. The man was trying to get someone to take care of his wife, according to him, and was getting nowhere. The issue was resolved and later that day I stopped in to see the woman.
She had been in the hospital for about two weeks. As I talked with her, I kept noticing the tube coming out of her nose and leading to a small reception tank. At first I was unsure what was going on, but as we talked I noticed a green liquid flowing through the tube out into the reception tank. There were green flakes passing through the tube as well. The woman had given birth two weeks prior to my first visit. Her baby was born with a high fever, so he was immediately taken to the NICU. The baby was big (9 lbs+), so she had a C-section. She quickly developed an infection that put her in the ICU. The green liquid was flowing out of her abdomine.
So, her baby was two weeks old and she had not yet seen him. She was so devastated and missed him so much. It was hard. She was very concerned because she felt her baby would not know how much she loved him and how much she missed him. I told her I would go down and visit her baby and tell him how much she loved him and missed him. I did that. The baby was beautiful (and big! – the nurse joked that they were going to take him home and put him right into pre-school). I prayed with the little guy and his nurse. He was almost over his fever. She was so thrilled when I went back to her room and informed her that I told her new son how much she loved him and how much she missed him. The patient had a huge smile on her face.
A few weeks later, after many visits, I entered her room to find her very depressed. Through a series of events, because she was not yet ready to leave the hospital and other reasons, her baby was taken to a foster home. She saw and held her baby once, but now she did not know when she would ever see him again. She had faith that her family would be back together at some point in the future, and that she had to heal, but she was so sad. After she told me what was going on, she looked at me and asked, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Yes.” She then asked, “Why do you do this?” I was speechless. I could not answer her right away. For some reason, I had not thought of why I did “this” on a grand scale. Immediately, I was involved in CPE because it was a requirement, but her question was bigger then that.
I told her that I did “this” because through the very difficult times in my life I have always experienced God’s presence, strength, and comfort. I did this because I have seen in my friends and family over time the same experience. I did this because I want people to know that even through their suffering and in what may seem their darkest hour that God is always there to help them, to strength them, and to give them comfort, despite the circumstances. So many people ask why God is doing this to them. I told the patient that I do not believe God does any such thing to people, but has promised us that He will never leave us or forsake us in the midst of our trouble, as devastating as the trouble may be, and that we can always rely upon God. I want people to know that. In a nutshell, that is why I did “this.” She is so afraid that when she becomes well that her son will not know who she is. I told her that he will probably have to get used to her again, but that he will never forget who his mother is.
The experience with this woman and her son gave me the most authentic experience of CPE. With this incident, I felt the most connected with the patient in a very real and tangible way – I helped ease her suffering with the simple act of telling her son that she loved him and missed him. And finally, I was able to receive an honest and sincere question about why I did this kind of thing. A question from her that stopped me dead and caused me to reflect in the most authentic way yet about why I was sitting in a hospital room visiting patients whom I did not know doing what I could to help ease their pain and anxiety.
I prayed with every patient but one. I sat for hours listening to the most intimate details of patients’ lives, had wonderful conversations, and read Psalms to patients who never regained consciousness. I grieved with families who lost daughters, cousins, friends, and husbands.
While I know that hospital chaplaincy is an important ministry, I also know that it is best left to those whom God has called to such a ministry. I am not one of those people. I am glad for the experience, but I am even more thankful that it has ended.