Saturday, September 17, 2005

CPE adventures, or, what DO chaplains do anyway?

Actually chaplains do a lot as it turns out. I am doing my clinical hours for CPE in a very medical setting with some very awesome professionals both religious and otherwise. The title of this entry comes from a patient I met in an earlier exercise in a long term care facility--the patient had both dementia and severe hearing loss. We were figuring out ways to communicate when all of a sudden the patient asked, "So what do YOU do, besides just sit there?" Talk about a question to set me back on my heels!! Talk about instant defensiveness!!! Talk about instant feelings of worthlessness!!!! Yikes. I realized almost immediately that it would do no good to attempt a lengthy reply because the patient had great difficulty with conversation, and me blabbling would probably only cause distress. So, I gave an exaggerated shrug and rueful smile, and said (loudly), "Not a whole lot, actually." I didn't know what would happen, figured the patient might get angry or might say what I should be doing, and we'd go from there. To my utter amazement the patient was delighted, saying, "Well, you know, I can't do much either."

In the medical setting I find that chaplains differ in their assessment of what their job is. With patients near death, my CPE supervisor takes the view that the chaplain's job is to support the patient as the patient thinks/feels through whatever is present for THEM at the time, whether that be fear, positive memories, questions about fate, resting in faith, welcoming death, hating death, seeking reconciliation, WHATEVER. I've met others who feel the job is to teach/help/make the patient feel good about their life and their contributions. These two approaches can be in conflict when a patient expresses negative opinions or emotions. And my CPE supervisor's approach makes more sense to me, because if I were near death and feeling estranged from God, I'd want someone who could sit with me THERE, not try to cheer me up in some way.

I suppose I'm extra sensitive to the differences in approach because I'm working through my own grief process over the years I have spent, that are now gone, in jobs and ways of life that were not my passion. It helps immensely to spend time with those who understand that grief and don't try to rechannel my thoughts into 'positive' directions.

Anyhow I love my current clinical placement, having already met some patients and family members who are heroic in ways that I'm not sure I could live up to, as well as some of the usual convoluted family dynamics that are so utterly human and ordinary. It always amazes me that simple acts of kindness, things that are within even my ability to do, are so generously received when people are in crisis. It shouldn't amaze me, because at the worst times in my life the simplest things, the simplest acts of concern and caring, have pulled me through. It is somehow immensely satisfying to be able to offer such acts 'back' or 'forward' or whatever. And it is somehow immensely healing to perceive that, at least once in a while, being present as the utterly ordinary human being I am is enough.


Blogger the reverend mommy said...

I listen. That's it. That's all. I listen and then let the person work it out as I make sympathetic noises. I occasionally let it get quiet and wait for them to talk. They usually will. And sometimes I start conversation.

But really, all I do is listen.

6:09 PM  
Blogger wondering04 said...

LOL, couldn't help commenting. I remember the days when I once gave a chaplin a tough time, wouldn't do it now though. My pastor works hard, and I am amazed at how many hours are spent in the ministry.

Thank you for caring enough to listen.

6:52 PM  

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