Life as a Hospital Chaplain

I don't actually do this work anymore (longer story) but I miss it and the list is inspired by @sally's lists about peds. Actually, I miss hospitals in general and I flirt with the idea of medical school sometimes even though I already spent plenty of time in grad school becoming a rabbi...
  1. 1.
    Listening
    Sometimes, even though doctors and nurses and physical therapists and social workers come in and out of your room and ask you questions and listen to your responses, you may have not had someone come in and ask you how you're doing without the context of a specific symptom. It's the simplest thing ever and anyone can do it but it can get forgotten.
  2. 2.
    Helping people find their voice...or their tears
    Patients often believe that they're supposed to "stay strong" for their partner or kid or parent. Creating safe space for them to break down can really be cathartic.
  3. 3.
    Hope
    Again, this is stuff that anyone can do, but patients may need someone to help them to reframe their hopes. Even if they know that they won't get out of the hospital for their birthday, or out at all, they can hope to have a chance to tell their family how much they love them. They can hope to be at peace with God or with their kids or to be in less pain, etc. but being able to articulate a hope makes them feel less powerless
  4. 4.
    Stealth work
    When you are debriefing a really intensely sad conversation that you, a family, and a doctor or nurse or NP just had, and you ask the staff member how they're doing. Stealthily unpacking secondhand grief or loss or sadness, listening to a doctor who is a youngish parent reflect on his own kids after just telling another youngish parent that they probably won't live another year
  5. 5.
    Being there during and after a death
    It's awful to have someone die and yet the times when families have gathered around the bedside and have all said everything and had the chance to hug and hold, to pray if relevant, it can be strangely beautiful because it's just so raw. And heartbreaking. Clergy often say that funerals are their favorite life cycle to officiate because families need you and let you in - in a way that isn't true at a wedding or a bris or a Bar/Bar Mitzvah.
  6. 6.
    Celebrating
    Not everything is about dying or bad diagnoses. Celebrating after a patient, who has been waiting forever, finally gets a transplant is a breathe of fresh air especially on those days that feel like you just go from death to death
  7. 7.
    6am pre-surgery moments
    People who request a prayer before they go in for surgery have literally just entered the hospital maybe 20 minutes earlier. They're scared but hopeful. They're usually not Jewish, (thoughts on that later) so I weave a prayer for them based on a quick convo. And a few minutes later, they're whisked away into the OR. Sometime as a pair to donate and receive a kidney - see #6
  8. 8.
    Unpacking the intensity of decisions
    I did lots of palliative care work and often joined family meetings and/or bioethics consults. I can't imagine being a family gathering to make decisions for someone who cannot make them for him/herself. I try to help them tease out the family's anticipatory grief from getting to what the patient would want. So hard. But also so worthwhile.
  9. 9.
    Learning/Teaching
    Love both of these. I love learning about medicine and, while it's trickier, I like trying to explain to others (MDs, SW, NP, etc) what it is that we do - we evaluate everyone, we aren't all super touchy feely, we don't push beliefs on anyone, and everyone has some sort of emotional/spiritual need. Not the same as a religious need.
  10. 10.
    Improvising
    I once had a patient who was terrified of getting a CT scan and wanted guided imagery. I worked with people who were trained in that but I wasn't. I was there though. So I made it up. And it worked. Calmer her down. Amazing.
  11. 11.
    Inter-religious or intercultural stuff
    Amount of times I've been at a bedside, called a priest (even at 2am) and stood together with him and the family for a patient's last rites: a lot.