What am I feeling in the present moment? Guilt.

Today was an interesting day.

Most of today was spent in class – three students presented verbatims and we had an hour and a half “process group.” During process group, we work on connecting to what we are feeling, what is pulling us away from the group, learning more about ourselves, etc etc. After process group, and before the end of the day, the group would visit patients briefly. After my experience yesterday, I created a plan in my head on who I would visit. The PICU, my two other units, and a few specific patients were on my list. It would be a light day but a good day. I did planned to visit an individual I avoided yesterday. I met them on my first day on the floor and, after that experience, I just felt…unsure… of seeing them yesterday. While processing through my first day, I came to the realization that even though I only saw a few patients, I witnessed quite a bit of suffering and that it impacted me. I didn’t feel ready to see that again – I needed a few different experiences to center myself and return back to the places I went to on Friday. Well, at least that is what I told myself. Yesterday, I would walk by one specific patient’s room and notice the door was shut or nurses were in it or doctors were visiting. I allowed myself to believe that there wasn’t any time for me to stop by. But, in reality, I just didn’t want to go in there quite yet and I wasn’t able to push myself to go. But today was different. I had a plan. I was ready and willing.

But that patient wasn’t. I heard, right before process group, that the patient died in the morning.

At first, I felt anxious and wondered what the family was going through. During my time in process group, I mentioned feeling anxiety about knowing if the family was still there and what I would do. What role would I play? Would I be ready for it? But as the group continued, I kept internally examining what I was feeling. I didn’t say it out loud but, in reality, I was feeling guilty. I felt guilty for not visiting that patient and their family the day before. When I met them last week, I was informed that the family was looking to receive more pastoral care and support. They had been in the hospital awhile and I figured that I had many more days with them. But I didn’t and I felt like I let an opportunity step away. And the guilt led to feelings of shame. I really feel I should have made it to see them yesterday.

I do know that the family did receive some pastoral care. Priests were contacted and other chaplains – chaplains who are on staff or are on their fourth unit of CPE – visited and were there. Although the department is small, the resources are fantastic and I am sure that the family was taken care of. But I still feel down because I didn’t risk seeing that family yesterday. I thought I’d have more time with them but I didn’t. And that’s a fact of hospital life. I’m still getting use to the turnover of patients in the units. The long timers are the exceptions, not the rule. Even having patients staying three or four days isn’t normal on my floors. There isn’t really time to wait or to not visit.

Tomorrow and Thursday are days where I’ll be visiting patients all day. I’m not sure, yet, how that will go or how I will break up my day. On Thursday, I will be the on-call chaplain during the day and will be responsible for any emergency ministry needed. I’ll actually get to use my beeper. I’m back to 1983. This is, and will be, an interesting week of firsts.