This is the first of a series of encounters I will be posting up from my time as a hospital spiritual caregiver/chaplain. I had hundreds of encounters in the wards and in the trauma bay over a space of 2 years while I attained certification with the ACPE but I’ll only be posting about 20 of the encounters here. I won’t be posting them up all in a row or else that would really be a downer. Instead, I’ll still be posting my other stuff as well as topics pop up.
Names have been changed for obvious reasons, but all the encounters were real and not made up. I made mistakes at times and I realize people may have dealt with these situations differently. As I wrote before, I’ve sat on these stories a long time and think it’s time to let them go in the hopes that maybe others can also learn something from them, how to connect to others in an authentic and genuine human-to-human way, beyond differences in race, class, background, religion and nationality.
DATE OF VISIT: December 25, 2003
RACE: African American
MARITAL STATUS: Single
RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE: Baptist
ADMITTING DIAGNOSIS: Renal complication (HIV-related)
NUMBER OF VISITS: 1
WHICH VISIT IS THIS? : 1st
This encounter happened during one of my cold-call visits. It was Christmas Day and I went up checking my various units asking the nurses and clinical managers specifically for patients who were NOT expecting visitors that day. The nurse suggested visiting a patient in Bed B, when I went in to look, Bed B was fast asleep so on my way out I said “Hi” to Bed A and we ended up talking instead.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (FAMILY, STAFF MEMBER, CHARTS)
The patient is a former drug addict, and the addiction was a part of her lifestyle. She did prostitution for many years to support her habit and essentially lived off the streets.
I saw the patient earlier before the visit, while I was visiting the other patients I saw this patient walking along the hallway with her IV, getting some exercises so her muscles would not become atrophied. My guess is that she had been bed ridden for a while. She also had many, many marks on her forearms including what looked like really ugly cigarette burns. This turned out to be correct as she later told me.
C1: (walking past her bed on my way out and making eye contact) Hi, looks like she’s sleeping (motioning to Bed B) , I’ll come back later.
P1: (Standing by her bed, fiddling with the portable IV) Who’re you so I can tell her when she wakes up?
C2: I’m one of the hospital spiritual caregivers here and I was just checking up on her since it’s Christmas day and all…
P2: Like a chaplain? Oh, how nice of you! (Her face softens up considerably) Mmm-mmm (shaking her head) God is good, God is good, I know that for a fact, I’m only alive because of God.
C3: (I get the feeling that this woman has a lot more to say so I stop and walk over to her) We all are, really.
P3: That’s right, but I tell you, ever since I’ve turned to God, I’m more peaceful about this.
C4: Could you tell me more about this peaceful feeling?
P4: Well, you know, I’ve lived through some really bad things, I mean real bad… I had a bad drug habit for years (she showed me her arms and there are heroine scars on the inside of her elbow from shooting up as well as what looks like some rather deep cigarette burns) and I had a man, who was my pimp, he used to bust me up pretty bad…for so long I was far from God and when I got infected, it forced me to look at my life and I had no one else to turn to but God. And the moment I did, I felt like I was returning home for the first time in years. (Her eyes start welling up with tears but she’s smiling at the same time) So I tell you… God is good.
C5: (I intuitively get the sense that this discovery of faith has some sort of redemptive element here for her) Do you think you found your salvation?
P5: I know I have, I haven’t felt this peaceful, happy and…excited (with emphasis) in such a long time. Now I want to work for God, I want to go out there on the streets and talk especially to women and girls.
C6: Do you?
P6: Mmm-hmm (nodding) I think that’s where the real work needs to done, out there (points out the window).
C7: Sometimes before we need to work out there, we need to work in here ( I point to my heart).
P7: That’s true too, I wouldn’t want to do this work if I wasn’t ready.
There’s just one thing which bothers me.
C8: What’s that?
P9: Well, I met a social worker about doing this sort of work and she said that I had to be based with some church.
C9: That’s usually true.
P10: Well, you see now, I haven’t belonged to a particular parish in years, I grew up Baptist and I’m not really sure if that’s for me anymore. How do I know what’s the right church for me?
C10: You’ll feel it. You’ll just know. It might require some shopping around on your part, you might need to sit in on some sermons and visit various churches and talk to some people. It really depends on how open you are. Some people have hang-ups about not going to specific churches, but I say use what works for you. Go with what feels right and where you feel comfortable. If you find a Baptist church you like, then that’s it, if it’s non-denominational, Episcopal , whatever.
P11: (She looks very thoughtful) You know, it wasn’t no coincidence you came here today…I’m so happy I met you….Jesus is good since he brought you here today (sighing, she starts tearing up again, she looks at me and asks) Is it alright if I ask for a hug?
C11: No, of course not. ( I go over to her and give her a hug, we remain quiet for a moment)
(A few thoughts run through my mind, she must be awfully alone in this world, she’s starved for genuine affection and connection instead of relationships based on sex, money and drugs, she looks at me as some sort of agent of intercession)
P12: Thank you.
C13: You’re welcome.
P13: Are you here a lot?
C14: Well, I’m here today, I won’t be tomorrow but I’ll be back on Saturday. Will you be here then?
P14: I’m not sure, the doctors say my swelling has to go down so maybe.
C15: Alright, when I come back, I’ll check in on you if you’re still here.
P15: Oh, would you? Alright.
C16: OK, so I guess I’ll see you on Saturday.
P16: Yes, and thanks again for coming. (I checked up on her on the following Saturday and she had been discharged the day before.)
I experienced this visit as an exercise in being at the right place at the right time. That I met her was by pure chance and coincidence since I went in trying to meet someone else. As the visit progressed many theological themes popped up. Finding a sense of the holy, rediscovering religion and spirituality, valuing and reassessing things presently in life and finding what your life’s work may be. Clearly this patient has gone through a lot in life. A life on the streets as a prostitute in the seedier sections Washington DC in order to support a drug habit cannot be something most people would take pride in but, rather would most probably be a source of shame. This patient seemed to be past that (with me anyway). Instead she had somewhere along the line found an anchor of peace which is helping her keep afloat. I think what made it easier was that this woman was very forthcoming with me, almost immediately and that made the visit easier. I did not have to do too much digging to speak of.
I experienced the visit as an exercise for myself in the mysterious powers of coincidence and timing. It just served to remind me that the universe will send you where you’re wanted in unexpected ways and places.
I think the visit was good for the patient in some ways. As stated earlier she saw me as some sort of agent of intercession as in her opinion, she seemed to say that somehow , it was not a coincidence that I was brought to her room and this was some sort of blessing from Jesus. With respect to inclusiveness, the patient and I are both members of visible minorities. The patient is also female. The patient is suffering from some sort of renal problem related to her HIV. I have never had the illness. The patient is a Baptist, however she is not in her church or faith tradition. I consider myself more of a secular non-observant Muslim. I’m not sure exactly why she opened up as quickly as she did but she really opened up immediately when it came out that I was visiting people for Christmas. Maybe she read into something there and that allowed her to open up and trust me.
My main concern as a spiritual caregiver was to listen to the patient and be present with her. As the conversation between us developed, I was able to see that this woman had found some sort peace in all of this with her recent discovery of spirituality. The interaction between us was very easy and trusting.
I think something positive was present here for this patient in some of the realizations that she has made as well as the fact that she’s fully aware that she’s still on a journey of sorts and no doubt some more realizations will most probably be on the way for her.