Saturday, June 18, 2011

CPE - Week One

I think I'm going to like being a chaplain.
I really do.
Granted, with just one week of CPE under my belt I've barely dipped my toe in the water, but where I once thought the experience would leave me feeling extremely anxious and stressed I instead find myself feeling enthusiastic and hopeful about going through this program.

The floor assignments I received have me doing a little bit of everything, and for that I'm grateful. My primary units are Medical/Surgical (which includes a 4 bed hospice unit) and in-patient Psych. I also have the Childbirth Center, and I'll be running an evening spirituality group at the out-patient Addictions/Mental Health unit across the street from the hospital. I'll also be running a weekly group in the in-patient Psych unit. When I'm "on call" I could be called anywhere in the hospital including Critical Care and the Emergency Room.
And I will be on call a lot.
Each student has to carry the emergency on call pager once a week during the day shift, in addition to that we have to do one 15-hour on call overnight shift every week and three 24-hour on-call weekend shifts during the 10-week program. There's also a back-up on call pager that has to be carried by someone every day, so I could conceivable be "on-call" for 55 hours during any given week.
They say the "Summer Intensive" CPE program is 40 hours per week.
That's not quite accurate.
At this hospital it's more like 50-70 hours.

There are seven students in our CPE group. Two women and five men. One Catholic, one Jew, two Lutherans, one Episcopalian, one Presbyterian, and me, the lone member of the UCC. Our immediate supervisor is a Quaker and the program supervisor is an ordained Disciples of Christ minister. As a group we have very interesting conversations at lunch. ;)

We spent the first few days getting to know each other, getting to know the hospital and the staff, spending time in the classroom, and doing role plays.
On Wednesday we shadowed the per diem chaplains, on Thursday we went out and did a few visits on our own, and on Friday we had 5 hours to do patients visits in our assigned units. I've found that getting into the rooms, introducing myself as a chaplain, and asking patients if they'd like a visit has been easier than I thought. A few years ago I volunteered at a health/rehab facility and it was my job to go around and ask patients if they'd like me to take them down to the recreation room for the regular Friday afternoon entertainment. I also had the chance to visit with patients afterward, many of whom where elderly and were long-term residents of the facility. Having that experience has eased my nerves of "cold calling" on patients in's what to say AFTER I get in the room that has me stumped at the moment.

We're supposed to keep in mind that these are not social visits, but pastoral visits, so we have to do our best to steer the conversation away from the normal niceties and explore any underlying feelings or spiritual issues that crop up. That's a lot to do in a 5-15 minute visit with someone you've never met before.
I expect I will be grappling with this social-pastoral dichotomy throughout the 10 weeks that I'm there.

My first week of CPE ended with my first opportunity to sit with a fellow human being in the last hours of his life. At 9 am Friday morning a call came in from the hospice unit to let us know a patient was dying and a chaplain was needed. This is my assigned unit so I was sent. Thankfully the program supervisor went down with me and got me started. The patient, Bob*, was in the last stages of lung cancer. He had no family, and had only one friend who was on her way. My job was to sit with him until she arrived and then be a presence for her, and for the staff, who were visibly shaken.
I was quickly reminded that these caring compassionate people never "get used to" dealing with death.
The staff expected that Bob's passing would be quick but he ended up hanging on for most of the day. Jay (a fellow CPE student) and I tag-teamed through out the day, relieving each other as needed and spending time talking to Sister Jane, Bob's friend. It turns out that Bob was a Franciscan "novice" and was a few months short of taking his final vows in the Order. Graciously, just the day before, his Order made the decision to fast-track him and that night Bob chose his Franciscan name, Brother Jacob. Bob had a hard life. He suffered from mental illness, struggled with addictions, and was often homeless, until he found God, and Sister Jane.
It was an honor to spend those precious hours talking to this wonderful woman as we sat with Bob in the last hours of his life.
I was not there when Bob passed. Jay and I were called away for classroom instruction, and Jay took the call when we were notified that Bob was passing.
Bob was already gone by the time Jay arrived, and Sister Jane, spent from the experience, left soon afterward, grateful that her beloved friend's pain was finally over.
Rest in peace, Brother Jacob.

When I was first brought down to the hospice unit on Friday morning it was chaotic. Nurses and doctors were milling about with two crisis cases unfolding in adjoining rooms. At one point we had 4 chaplains tending to patients, family, and staff in this one small space. And in the midst of it all I was amazingly calm. It was my first day going solo, it was my first call, and I was told that Bob's death had the potential to be difficult and "messy." But I felt privileged to be there. I felt like I had a purpose and the staff wanted and expected me as the chaplain to be there. God was present, the Spirit was present. All I had to do was be present as well.

I expect to face much more difficult, and chaotic situations in the coming weeks.
The thought of it makes me anxious, which is to be expected, but I no longer feel afraid. And I never expected that I would say that, just one week in.
I think I'm going to like being a chaplain.
I really do.

*Names and details have been changed to protect patient anonymity

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