What It Is Like
It is wonderful. Being a hospital chaplain, that is.
My work began in the middle of December when I was asked to find five dates when I could work from 2 until 10 p.m., shadowing an experienced chaplain, and learning the particularities of the hospital. Finding 40 hours in the last two weeks of December was a challenge, but we managed. The men that I worked with were patient and kind (well, what would you expect?) and taught me well.
I wasn't concerned about the work that I would be doing; I'd done that before and felt competent. My biggest worry, as it happened, was one that would take care of itself: Finding my way around the humongous, state-of-the-art emergency trauma center! There appeared to be no logic whatsoever as to how it was laid out. I was just going to have to go there and do it and look for patterns and clues.
My mentors believed me to be ready, and very recently I worked my first solo shift from 3 p.m. on one day until 3 p.m. the next day. There is an on-call room and it is anticipated that eight hours of the shift will be sleep hours, though it is not anticipated that those eight hours would be consecutive!
The hospital chaplain has a variety of visit types and there is plenty of time spent doing documentation and reporting. On this first shift I did all of these different things:
- Responded to one Level I and three Level II traumas. This must be done with all due speed and my role is to work with whoever I can to identify next-of-kin for the trauma patient, and then to contact that individual and ask him to come to the hospital. Sometimes the family member has come in with the patient; other times the family is contacted by the nursing home sending the patient; and sometimes I need to prowl through the patient's cell phone looking for "Mom" and make that call.
- Supported a family member immediately after a patient's (not unanticipated) demise.
- Assisted a patient who wanted to make a Living Will and select a Health Care Power of Attorney.
- Arranged for a priest to provide Sacrament of the Sick to a patient nearing the end of his life.
- Supported a patient (and her husband) who had come to the hospital with what she thought was a very minor problem only to discover she had a far-advanced major diagnosis.
- Visited numerous patients in their rooms upon referral from the nurses and the previous chaplain.
Another night I might be asked to perform a Baptism for an unstable newborn, to sit with a dying patient who has no family, to be with a woman who had just become a widow due to her husband's sudden cardiac arrest. The beeper is with me constantly, as is the telephone, and the chaplain's number is intentionally an easy one to remember.
I found one wonderful nurse in the ER who eased me along with a difficult family identification. I discovered that the staff in the triage section are good-natured and amazingly helpful with all kinds of questions. I learned that breakfast and lunch are the best meals in the cafeteria and that the dryness of the institution requires lots of chapstick and cups of water
When I was working on the final trauma of my shift, very tired from too few, too short segments of sleep, all at once I realized that I wasn't actually thinking about where I was going. My feet had learned the layout of the ER, while my brain really had not!
I love it. I absolutely love it.