Let Lose The Interns of War

Today, I began CPE.

I had forgotten what it was like to ride the subway at rush hour and to walk in the humid summery air while wearing a collared shirt. Sometimes, riding on the subway can be literally the pits as my face is pretty much at arm-pit level. Today, it wasn’t so bad but watching the mass of humanity move through the tubes, into the open air, and down 70th street, reminded me of how many people are crammed onto the small little island of Manhattan. For a moment, I missed having a car. Instant air-conditioning is the best.

I was worried that I might have missed receiving a memo telling me where to report today. Besides a letter about the dress code and another letter telling me to get my immunizations in order, I felt a tad in the dark. I asked the security guard who looked at my photo id where the Pastoral Care Department was and she gave me the completely wrong directions. I ignored them and went to where I remembered it being. SUCCESS! I was at the right place and early! Yay me.

The interns slowly began to arrive. My group consists of six souls, two who are from Reform Judaism, two Episcopalians, and two Lutherans. We’re split evenly by sex and there is a nice balance of ages. Our supervisors arrived and we spent the first hour or so just introducing ourselves. Quite a bit of the time was spent trying to explain to each other what each religious traditions’ ordination track was. The language for Episcopalians is different from Lutherans and I know nothing about what a Cantor does in the Jewish tradition. We spoke about what we’re looking forward to, what we’re excited about, our fears, and our “growing edges.” I said that I was excited to see how I would react in this type of environment and also afraid that I’ll screw up my own self-care, causing myself to shut down while in front of patients or while back home with my wife and friends. This past year of going back and forth between Philadelphia was really the first instance where I actually started to grasp what self-care was and how bad I am at it. If anyone already knows exactly what I need to personally do to regulate myself, please share. The trial-and-error of my current system can get a tad annoying after awhile.

We finished the rest of the morning with a tour of the hospital, more Q&A, and then ate pizza for lunch. Our afternoon began with more tours of the hospital and the eleven buildings that make up the campus of New York – Cornell. We walked various wards, from Psychiatric and Burn to Child and Neonatal ICUs. The gaggle of interns (without their own security badges!) drew stares and some comments but not much else. The hospital was crowded and busy but not wild. I tried not to look into patient rooms while I walked by unless they were empty. I wasn’t told NOT to do that but, considering how open the rooms are (especially some of the ICU’s where the rooms have giant windows have replaced walls), I tried to avoid staring just to give these individuals some privacy. I’m sure where I end up being the chaplain at, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to walk into rooms on my own.

The orientation will continue tomorrow and, by Thursday, we’ll begin visiting patients. We’ll be assigned to a ward where we’ll spend most of our time this summer. Most of the “tougher” ones are already covered by various staff chaplains and residents but there are quite a few others open. I was asked which ward would I NOT want to do and I really couldn’t think of one. Earlier in the year, I thought maybe I would like to avoid anything dealing with children but now I’m open to being anywhere. All wards sound interesting, challenging, and exciting.

Most of the highlights today just had to deal with everyone getting to know each other. I think the group is a great and will be a lot of fun. Trying to explain the candidacy track to a Reform Jew isn’t easy but is fun. The other Lutheran in the group is an International student and told me that I was the first Lutheran minister in the United States they had met. We had a great chat about picking bishops and what Lutheranism looks like in the big ol’ U S of A. I learned a fun new analogy to use about what Doctors bring into the room (medicine) and what Chaplains bring (ourselves) to use when explaining what Pastoral Care is. I also loved learning, for the first time, about shabbat apartments and shabbat candles. I still don’t understand the procedure for them (yet) but I’m learning.

But one of the biggest things I learned was that only the Roman Catholic Church has the staffing to take care of people who request them specifically (the diocese pays for it and has a chapel nearby). For everyone else, no matter their religion or religious beliefs, I’m their Chaplain. In the ward, I’m not the Student Intern, I’m the Chaplain. When I’m On-Call, I’m the Chaplain. I can make referrals, farm things out, etc., but, for all intents and purposes, I am their spiritual resource in their time of need. I guess a big part of what I’ll be learning this summer is how to not let myself get in the way of being what those patients need.

This should be fun.