Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BAD driver--no, BAD CHAPLAIN.

Another shift, another mortuary call. I went back to the ambulance entrance to let the attendant in with his cot. "It's slippery out here," he said (it was snowing/sleeting). "You need some ice-melt here--but, wait, maybe you get extra business this way??" (BRAT). I said, "Well, YOU could get some business too, you know." Delighted, he said, "Hey, you're right!!" We looked at each other. "Why don't you just take some business cards and scatter them around on the icy spots?" I suggested. "That's what I usually do."

Much too young

End-stage liver disease again. This patient is young, seems no more than a kid really, about the age my mother was, when she died.

No family. No friends. No one. The patient came to hospital through the emergency department, went to ICU, got worse and worse, and doctors finally decided upon hospice. The patient was signed in by physicians.

It is easy, and I am told health professionals often do it, to be angry or scornful about patients whose drinking or drugging or smoking or overeating has produced huge problems. And sometimes our patients have caused enormous amounts of pain to others because of these behaviors. None of that negates their value as parts of creation, and none of that should impact the care they receive, but it does. Health professionals are human too, and many of *us* have been hurt by the behavior of people in our own lives with addictions.

I sat quietly at the patient's bedside, wondering what hurt was medicated by alcohol all those years, whether there had ever been hope in that young life. I prayed for the family and friends who were either dead or alienated by alcoholic behavior. I prayed for an end to pain, for peace. After my shift, I awoke in the night, thinking of that young poisoned body now struggling to die. "YOU take care of that one," I said to God. "No one else can."

The patient died the next morning, 14 hours after admission to hospice, never having regained consciousness.