The Medieval Bestseller
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Thursday, June 22, 2006

This is it - my 1,000th post.

We had a group learning day, so I don't have really anything to share about what happened today. Our group learning days consist of "didactics," where we learn about something. Today we learned about how to ask open-ended questions and how to do restatement of feelings. At times I was kinda wondering about learning this kind of psychological/counseling mumbo-jumbo - I guess my gut question is does anyone really buy it? But upon consideration, I can see how it could be helpful in the hospital room environment if one takes the principles of it and makes it their own instead of going with the cliche "How does that make you feel?"

And now, I'll answer some questions that some of you left in the comments.

About Chaplaincy. I should say that being in a chaplaincy role in the hospital is a tricky one. I come in from a Christian background and all of our chaplains are Catholic (except one Anglican and one Indian Orthodox or something like that). So we all have that going for us but we can, in no way, proselytize to the patients. Even though we all have our backgrounds in some form of Christianity and are in a Catholic hospital, we are in effect interfaith chaplains. I have yet to encounter this in the "clinical" setting (clinical meaning interacting with real patients), but I can see that there is a tenuous and unavoidable tension in being Christian yet interacting in an interfaith way. I can't say that I'm quite comfortable with it yet but that is one of my areas to grow in for this summer. Also, as chaplains, we aren't supposed to press people to talk about things they don't want to talk about. Our role is not to get everyone talking about matters of faith or spirituality but to be available for those who want to talk through those things. I guess many times when people are in a hospital, there is a more urgent need or desire to talk about or reflect on some of these issues that one may not want to broach in healthy times.

About Blessing the Babies. The hospital that I work at is constantly full. This is no exception for the Maternal Care area. Every day, about 90% of the patients (my estimate) are new. There are only a few who will stay longer than a day for monitoring. (Incidentally, whenever a baby is born at the hospital, a lullaby is played over the hospital PA system for everyone in the hospital to hear.) Anyway, our practice is to go down once a day and visit all of the new mothers in Postpartum. There, we usually only go to those who are new. We go in, we talk to them, ask them about their experience and their family. Then we also ask them if they want us to pray a blessing over their baby, unless their baby happens to not be in the room (like if it's in the nursery) or if the mom is nursing or if the mom speaks Spanish. So we don't offer/pray a blessing in each instance, but that is the primary intention of our visit there. I have only experienced one lady who said she didn't want a blessing, in which case I left a card for her (on the card is an interfaith prayer of blessing for the baby). Usually the moms are appreciative of a prayer of blessing. On the sheet we get for each unit, it usually says what religion the patient is. If it's a Christian-based religion, we will say a prayer of blessing in Jesus' name. If it is not or if the patient does not have a religion listed, we will say a prayer of blessing in God's name. Usually I say something like "Lord, we thank you for bringing X to life and praise you for X's preciousness. I pray that you will walk beside X and guide X and that X would always know of your love for him/her. In God's/Jesus' name, Amen."

About Leading Worship. Wednesday was my first experience leading worship in the Sub-acute unit, so I don't really know too much about it, except that it seems that this worship service is definitely Christian (with a heavy Catholic influence because it is run by either the Father or the Sister - or both!). The people who are in the Sub-acute unit are people who have an indefinite stay in the hospital and cannot live life for themselves. Kinda like people who would be in a nursing home, although probably more severe. These people are in comas (although the coma patients aren't wheeled out for the service, which is held in the "living room" area of the unit) or have been paralyzed or have had some sort of respiratory failure (almost every one of them have trachs)...basically people who can't function on their own anymore. What happens is that they're wheeled out into the living room area of Sub-acute (because this unit of the hospital has more permanent patients - some have been there for over ten years - this area of the hospital is much more like a house and has a common room with a HUGE TV and plants and stuff) and when everyone gets there, the nun says some opening words like, "We're so glad you could join us for worship today." Then someone reads a Psalm and a prayer. Then the nurse in the back plays a song from a worship CD. Then someone else (and these someones are those from the chaplain staff who happen to be there, sometimes only the Sister or the Father, in this instance the Sister and my partner Mike and I) reads another Psalm and a prayer. Then the nurse in the back plays another song on the CD. Sometimes these songs are in English. Sometimes they are in Spanish. One thing is certain - there is no theme or musical style that joins them together. Then the Sister got up and read a Psalm and a prayer in Spanish. And then maybe there was one more song and then that was the end of the worship service. The Sister is glad that we (Mike & I) are here because she wants to get more creative and lively with the service because she feels that just because these people can't use their bodies doesn't mean that they can't be stimulated mentally, which I think is a very astute thought. I was really inspired with the Sister after seeing her interact with these patients. After the service we visit with the patients which, for me, was incredibly difficult because how do you have a conversation with someone who can only use his eyes to communicate? I don't know. But somehow the Sister has these wonderful interactions with the patients and you can see that there is so much love and so much care in her. Afterwards she was telling us that she is prayer partners with this one guy (he's one of the ones who is obviously alert mentally yet has absolutely no movement in his body). She tells him the things that she sees in the other units that needs prayer and trusts that he prays for those with her. What an amazing theological statement - to say that this man who almost everyone would discount as being useless is capable of and has a ministry alongside this woman in the hospital.

About Verbatims. A verbatim is this document that we use for learning purposes. The basic structure is that you write down the specifics about the person (sex, age, race, religion, diagnosis, prognosis, etc.) and then you write a little bit about what you want to learn from the conversation and about your inital observations, feelings, impressions about a particular hospital visit. Then you try to recount as best you can the entire conversation you had with a person you visited with and you write it in dialogue format. Then after the dialogue you write your assessment of your awareness of what was going on in the visit (were there common threads, for example?) and then assess what you think the person's psychological, spiritual and social state was during the visit. Then you write about what the implications of the conversation were pastorally and then finish off the paper by writing what you did or would write in the patient's chart. Then what happens is you copy one for each member in the CPE group and the group reads through the conversation out loud (kinda like how in high school English class you would read plays aloud by assigning people to parts) and then you talk about the interaction between you and the patient and then talk about what went well in the conversation and what were problematic points or points where you could have perhaps delved a little deeper with the patient about the existential things that they're dealing with. So we use these to evaluate how we're doing, to bring up theological questions we may have or to use in some way as learning tools in preparation for future visits. Afterwards, the verbatims are to be destroyed (by shredder or something) for confidentiality purposes.

Anyway, so that's a little bit more about what it is to be a chaplain...or what it is in my experience to be a chaplain. If you have anymore questions, let me know!

- Jenny, 6/22/2006 05:59:00 PM

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