My first night working an overnight on-call shift was with a chaplain who had decades of experience. Soft-spoken, kind, and very calm, he walked me through my first code blue as a chaplain, and my first experience supporting a family after the death of their family member. It was truly a brain and emotional overload!
The first part of our shared shift was busy seeing referrals which had not been done during the day shift. There came a lull, so we decided to head back to the office and do some charting. We were sitting having a cup of tea, debriefing over a shared visit with an oncology patient when the pager went off. I sighed deeply and groaned, “REEEAAALLLYYY??”
He looked over at me, smiled and commented gently, “You know, someone is about to have their worst night EVER!”
It stopped me in my tracks. For what was I groaning about? Having to put aside my cup of tea and see a patient, a family, or a staff member… Someone who was indeed going to have “their worst night ever.”
When I reflected on this experience to my CPE supervisor, he said, “What if you treated each person you meet like they were just about to have THEIR worst day, ever? What difference would it make?” We talked about that for some time.
I quickly realized the other logical question related to my supervisor’s: “What if I knew I was about to have my worst day, ever. What would I do differently? What would I say? And how would I want to be treated”
Everyone has hard days. Everyone. Some of the most creative, thoughtful people the earth has known have struggled greatly with facing the day in front of them.
My mentor’s words stuck with me for the rest of that night, and indeed, for every shift that I’ve worked as a chaplain. It doesn’t matter if it’s an accident or an overdose, a heart attack or an aneurysm, the families struggle to come to terms with what they are feeling and thinking. In their eyes, it is their worst night ever. They walk in to the hospital, anxious, worried and uncertain. They don’t know where the Emergency Department is. All they see and hear and smell are things that they never see at home.
I’m a “hospital kid.” The hospital was where my Dad worked. I knew the back hallways and labs better than the front lobby and information desk. I knew that people lived and died there. I knew that, sometimes, the pathology report wasn’t good news. And so I try to bring my knowledge and experience to bear on my work as a chaplain.
I understand the questions that patients and families and friends are asking: “Will anyone listen? Will we be able to afford the treatment? Is the doctor going to help with her pain? Why is everyone so busy? Will I get well? Am I going to die?”
And my role? It is to walk beside them, listening, praying, holding silence or holding a hand, and doing all in my power to help them make their first steps towards healing. For, too often, I walk on unfamiliar turf, where I need support and understanding. I struggle waiting for answers that never seem to come. And I realize that my feelings and experiences are not unlike theirs.
Slowly, we’ll all make it through.
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.
Philippians 2:1-4 Common English Bible