Departments, Wards, Patients, Oh My

The schedule at my CPE was changed this week and I’m actually scheduled to begin to see patients today. On Wednesday, we spent an hour shadowing a chaplain and seeing how the work is done. I was involved with the visits of four patients, met several families, tried some reflective listening, and also was pushed aside by a doctor at one point. I felt I got a nice little showcase of what to expect during CPE. I’m glad for that.

At the end of the day yesterday, my group and I received our department assignments. Each of us received three units. My units are: the department dealing with heart attacks and heart trauma (I forget the medical name for that), a general medicine unit, and pediatrics ICU. I kind of knew I would get kids because I was one of the few folks in the group who didn’t say “I don’t want kids.” I didn’t say anything not because I wanted to work with kids but, rather, I felt that if I started putting barriers on where I wanted to go, it wouldn’t serve my learning this summer. I’m not particularly good at ministering to groups and I have no experience ministering to family members who have a sick child or sick sibling. I know my future ministry will not be restricted to merely one-on-one meetings with individuals. I’m going to have to deal with families, friends, and all the baggage that entails. I will say that I am worried and a little concerned about working with kids but I do know I’m not alone. Even though I am the chaplain in these departments, I have a massive number of chaplains to help me out. It’s great to have resources.

So, as I write this, my stomach is in knots a bit but that’s okay. I’m nervous and a little anxious but I’m only visiting patients for an hour today. I’ve been given a couple of examples of how to introduce myself when I enter the room. I’ll have business cards to give out at the end. It’ll work out.

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.

Endings, beginning, and lack-of-terrifyings

But so little time. I want to write about the end of my first year at field education, a sermon I gave last Thursday, and my weekend trip to Ocean City, NJ. But, alas, I start CPE tomorrow. The others posts will have to wait. I’m not as terrified about CPE as I sometimes think I should be but maybe I’m just very good at keeping myself busy since the end of my semester. If I promise you that I will write more tomorrow, hopefully that will convince myself to really do it. :p

My Entire Life is a Lie

Yesterday morning, I woke bright and early. After annoying my wife, harassing the cat, and getting growled at by the dog because I made her move from her spot on the bed, I prepped myself to visit the Health and Safety department of the hospital where I will be doing CPE at. I start on May 31st and I needed my paperwork verified and my skin was to be pricked a second time for another PPD test. I somehow made it to the right place at the right time (even though I did take the wrong elevator at one point). I was pleasantly surprised to see the waiting room for the doctors waiting to be checked out to be just as mundane as the waiting rooms for the rest of us. My name was called and the nurse brought me into one of the many medical rooms. She was very nice but noticed that my physical was missing some information. She asked my height, my weight, and whether I wore contacts. She then left the room briefly and returned with a little book. She needed to check whether I was color blind. I had no idea you could check that via a book.

She flipped open the book and asked me to mention what numbers I saw. The pages were covered in dots of various colors. The first three pages were fine – I saw the patterns of dots that made numbers easily. And then, on page four, the numbers vanished. All I saw were dots of different colors. I saw no numbers or any patterns that could resemble numbers. I saw nothing but chaos. My pulse went up a little. I squinted hoping I would see something. I thought about even making things up but that idea quickly passed. At the end, she closed the book and told me what K had suspected for years.

“Did you know that you’re color blind?”

I didn’t.

Now, I’ve never been red-green color blind. I can tell the difference between stop lights. But what colors were I messing up? What colors did I think we’re blue but were really green? What about Navy and Black? Or Purple and Blue? How long had my eyes been deceiving me? Who could I blame? WHERE HAD IT ALL GONE WRONG?

It’s a little strange to find out that I am color blind. I do not have a feeling of relief – as if I thought something was seriously up and that, now that I know the answer, my life was somehow better. Rather, I felt strange, curious, and full of questions. But I wasn’t going to get answers that day. At the end of the blood work, the PPD test, and everything else, the nurse then told me that I was going to undergo a drug test. This wasn’t the first and and I’m sure it won’t be the last but I still have not gotten use to handing a bottle of urine to a nurse. “Hi, we just met and you’re very nice, kind, and you’ve made this whole experience rather pleasant so, as a special thanks, here’s some urine in a cup.” It just seems strange though I know that it’s only strange from my perspective. The nurse does this all the time and she’s seen worse. I bet she has stories that would make me squirm. But still. It something I am not use to.