Monday, February 11, 2008
I was on call overnight, and I was paged early in the morning. Some bad news had come in about a loved one of one of our patients, and the patient needed to be told. The nurse wanted a chaplain present to support the patient, so I went to the unit and we went to the patient's bedside. The nurse, who knew the patient a whole lot better than I did (gosh, I'd never SEEN him before) told him the news. I sat with him for a few minutes, telling him I was sorry he had had to receive such bad news. This particular patient is a quiet man of immense dignity. He had some reactions to the news, to which I simply listened and responded with what I call a "supportive mumble," to let him know I was listening but didn't want to take over the conversation. Pretty soon he said he'd like to be alone. The nurse wanted me to stay with him, but that's not what he wanted, so out we went. The nurse told him we'd be nearby and when he wanted us back he should use his call bell. For the next half hour I hung out in a corner of the unit, sitting on a borrowed chair, thinking about this lovely man who was already sick and now had bad news to cope with. I felt helpless; there wasn't a thing I could say or do to make anything better. I couldn't even keep him company, really, because what he needed was time alone. Eventually he rang his call bell. The nurse and I went back to his bedside. He asked the nurse for some coffee, and then turned to me and said, "Your presence was deeply felt and very comforting. You are good at your job." I was/am dumbfounded. Could he really sense me, over in a corner of the unit, trying to be out of the way, wondering if I should just leave and go back to the on-call room? Who knows. I was touched by his reaching out with a compliment. I asked if it would be OK with him if I kept him in my thoughts and heart. He had tears in his eyes as he agreed. So there he was, and there he still is. I hope he is doing OK.