Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Just a quick note

Grand Rounds 4.10 is up at Prudence, MD. There are some wonderful, thought-provoking posts this week, and I'm flattered that my submission was included! Thanks!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sweet Dreams

Some moments stay with you.

He was old, and sick, and very, very tired. He was ready to die, had been so for days, and had been waiting, sometimes patiently and sometimes less so, for death to come. On this particular afternoon he was restless, not comfortable, and his eyes were roaming around the room. A nurse and I were with him. The nurse went to get pain medicine. His eyes roamed and roamed, not settling, and he was vocalizing, but I couldn't make out anything definite. "It's OK," I said, and touched his head very lightly so he would know where the sound of my voice was coming from. I noticed that his eyes drifted shut with the touch. The nurse gave him his medicine. He seemed chilled, so we tucked his blankets all around him, warm around his shoulders and up under his chin. His eyes roamed. I touched his head again and his eyes drifted closed. I left my hand in place and his eyes stayed closed. I stroked his hair, very lightly. "It's OK, buddy," I said. "It's fine to rest." Slowly he turned his head, resting against my hand. I stroked his head gently and watched as his breathing slowed, relaxing, as the medicine took hold and pain went away.

Family came. That was good for him, I think. Eventually they left, utterly exhausted. They wanted to know, right away, when he died--we knew it would be that night. For the rest of my shift I peeked in on him regularly, calling a nurse for any signs of discomfort. At the end of my shift I was ready to leave but decided to check on him one last time.

He was dead. I walked back into the hall and called his nurse, who had been in his room two minutes before. He'd been alive then. So I called the family as they'd wished, and was able to tell them he'd died two minutes before. They wanted to know right away, and he wanted to die. For once everyone got what they wanted.

Sweet dreams, buddy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gosh, I am a rotten blogger

The last several weeks have been really challenging with some co-worker/political issues; I am feeling less like a person about to lose her job, which is reassuring, but have been doing a lot of thinking about what chaplaincy is for me, and about how my own personality and also my own training and particular religious bent defines chaplaincy. The two staff chaplains at my location (I am on-call) have very different spiritualities from me and approach the job with a very different mind-set, and that will continue to be challenging I think. More posts about this later; today I want to offer something a bit light.

I am a hospice chaplain, and at work I see individuals and families at very vulnerable, painful, dark moments. One way I keep from being overwhelmed is to find humor in certain situations, and surprisingly enough even in death humor is not in short supply.

The other night I was waiting for a mortuary to come and remove a body; the family of the deceased had elected to remain until that happened. We were all exhausted, and it was taking FOREVER. Finally, FINALLY the buzzer rang telling me to let in the attendant and the long skinny gurney (I have learned that these go by the benign euphemism "cot"). The attendant, a young, pleasant fellow, was embarrassed at having taken so long. The reason? His dispatcher had gotten things mixed up and sent him to a nearby hospital. Where he had pushed his "cot" earnestly from floor to floor, nurse's station to nurse's station, looking for the deceased. And where I can imagine weary charge nurses looking up and feeling a millisecond of fleeting horror--did I miss a death? How could I have missed a death??? before realizing it was the mortuary attendant who was confused. At 3 AM I can imagine our young attendant just wishing for a body, any body, so he could pick it up and go about his business. After touring the entire hospital and finding no bodies at all, let alone the one he'd been called out for, he called the dispatchers back and got it sorted.

Another day, another body--I let the mortuary attendant in, signed the relevant bits of paperwork, and escorted him to the room. While we were walking, we made idle conversation. He said he couldn't wait for snow. I thought he was being sarcastic, but no. I said I liked snow best if I didn't have to drive in it. Said he, "I drive at night, and when I'm driving the road is MINE, there's no one else out so it doesn't matter if I'm going straight ahead or sideways!!!" As I looked at him in horror, he said, "One time I was driving in a blizzard so bad the visibility was zero. I just used my GPS to tell me whether I was on the road or not. THAT was FUN!" Think about THAT if your loved one dies in a snowstorm. Your loved one's last ride might be a real adventure. And if you're driving in a snowstorm, and a nondescript van goes sliding past you sideways with a man grinning maniacally at the wheel? He might have a Very Quiet passenger or two in the back.