Things I will miss about CPE

I’ve been both poetic and snarky about my summer as a hospital chaplain. There are some things about it that I will not miss at all. But for the most part, it has been an amazing experience for which I am deeply grateful. So, in no particular order, here are the things that have made my summer wonderful:

Lee Ann, Megan, JP, Henry, Susan, Mike, Nadine, and me.

Did I say no particular order? That goes for the end of the list, but number one in all respects is my team! We are seven interns and one supervisor. Among us are many lifetimes of experience – a former federal judge, retired nurse, social worker – all focused on sitting with whoever needed a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen. I learned from each and every one of them how to be a better pastor and a better person. We’ve been with each other through grief, struggle, frustration, joy, and relief. We had a lot of fun and every member of the team knows that a sense of humor is the number one survival skill in stressful jobs. A sense of humor and hot cookies (see below).

I am about to be a student again, and after that get on the lowest rung of the church ladder to start a new career. So pardon me if one of the things I will miss from this summer is the power trip of my badge. With this baby, I could swipe my way into three emergency rooms, gain access to the highly secure NICU, and, most important, get a 10% discount at the cafeteria – that’s 10% off every slice of pie and cake I had while on call. And 10% off hot cookies.

Nurses. Sure, I’m impressed with the doctors, clinical assistants and social workers I met this summer, but I was blown away by every single nurse with whom I worked. They all did more than attend to the health of their patients – I saw them cry with parents who lost a child, hold hands with dying patients, negotiate with families in conflict, and have conversations with premature babies. If a chaplain shows up unexpectedly in the middle of a crisis, you can bet it was a nurse who made the call. Even at the end of a 12-hour shift, these women and men can still keep their cool in an emergency and soothe a child visiting a sick parent.

I’m going to miss my patients and their families. In some units, patients are only there for a day or two, but in my units (antepartum and NICU) there are patients and families who have been in the hospital all summer long. I’ve gotten to know them and see them thru that strange mix of anxiety and hope that is part of high-risk pregnancies and birth. I “met” some babies before they were born. After I leave, they will still be working hard at what babies do – learning to eat, getting bigger and stronger. I won’t know how they are doing or when they go home, but I won’t be able to stop imagining it…All of them have blessed me tremendously.

Honestly, I have never worked in a place with so many polite and friendly people. Every single one of them will offer you directions if you look the slightest bit lost. Nurse, administrator, janitor – doesn’t matter. You cannot go down a hallway without smile after smile after “how are you today?” And if you choose to answer, they will stop and listen. It is contagious and I hope I stay infected.

Y’all, I may never be able to work anywhere ever again that does not have hot cookies at least once a week. Huge-as-your-face hot cookies. And co-workers who page you so that you don’t miss out on the yumminess.

I love the theological discussions that happen in seminary – in class and on the fly – but the discussions in CPE have been different. We weren’t talking about theological concepts in a vacuum, isolated from real life, we were living through applied theology. Where is God in the midst of suffering? How do you find hope in a trying situation? What resources help people cope with stress? Or…How can I be more “there” for other people? How do I better identify their needs? How can I stop trying to fix people and just be with them?

To my colleagues, my babies, the nurses, and the cookies: Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart.

Things I will not miss about CPE

On this, the occasion of my penultimate day of on call as a hospital chaplain, I am feeling reflective…and a little snarky about the whole experience. While this program has been mostly wonderful and transformative for me, there are some aspects of it that I will be more than happy to kiss goodbye.

The Sleep Room.  One of the perks of staying overnight at the hospital is having a sleep room to, uh, sleep in. So, that’s good. It has a nice 8th floor view and a microwave. Yea! But I will not miss the bed at all. It looks harmless, those crisp white cotton sheets look comfy but they cover a block of granite. At least that is what it feels like at midnight. (I did bring my own pillow.) Sure, there are lots of other people who have overnight on call here, but they actually get paid. Which is what I’ll require in order to ever sleep on this bed again.

 

I will also not miss the sink in the sleep room. When you stand close enough to use it, the dispenser to the left automatically spits out a few inches of rough brown paper towel whether you need it or not. (I preferred using the rough cotton towels. Good for exfoliation.) I did appreciate the warning sign on the blow dryer – NOT FOR USE ON SKIN. Phew. I was just about to dry my hands with that thing.

 My Pager. I don’t think I need to say too much about this one. Does anyone like them?

Sharing a Computer with 5 People… We all needed it throughout the day to track our work or look up patient info. Sharing can either build or destroy community – thankfully my peers did the former. More on that in the next post.

…and tracking every minute of my day. I used to work mostly from home whenever I wanted. As long as the work got done, I was fine. All summer long I’ve been tracking my time down to the minute on two different databases. Not only where I was and what I was doing, but what kind of spiritual/emotional/psychosocial assessments I was making. One helpful tip I can pass on: spirituality doesn’t translate well to databases.

Beets. This seems like an odd one, but all summer the cafeteria has been pushing beets AND I AM SO OVER IT!!! I don’t like them and I don’t need anyone making cutesy displays and hawking free samples. No, no, no.

And finally, Military Time. If I never have to calculate what time it is on a 24-hour clock again…it’ll be too soon.

Full Moon Baptism

If Austin were a religion, swimming in Barton Springs Pool would be its baptism – and there is nothing that will make you feel more fully Austin-ized that taking that leap during the full moon. If you happen to do it after the setting sun has raised temps into triple digits, all the better.

Tonight, my daughter and I made the trek to the spiritual center of Austin, passing games of ultimate frisbee and zorb ball soccer (if you haven’t seen that…google it, but make sure you are sitting down). We were there for the cool, clear water that bubbles up through the limestone. We were there to hang out with hundreds of people of all ages and bathing suit styles (or not). We were there to howl.

Shortly after sunset, when the full moon rises, everyone at the pool begins to howl like wolves. Simultaneously stunning and hilarious, it is deeply weird, which is why it is so perfectly emblematic of my city. If you are lucky, a couple of our famous bats will fly overhead. After about an hour of swimming and howling, Austin has been tattooed on your soul. You’re in for good. And unlike other forms of baptism, this one can been repeated as often as you like.

Fashion Explosion

Y’all!!! There has been a fashion explosion at Maryology! This is exciting to the extent that you take “fashion” with a grain of salt.

As an antidote to my work this summer, I decided I needed to get a little crafty – use a totally different side of my brain. So I made a skirt using a pattern I found here. It is a very easy pattern, which is why it took me almost two years to make the skirt. (That’s how long ago I announced to friends I was definitely making it.) And now I have a skirt that I can wear with boots – which means I have almost everything it takes to front an Austin band.

Next, I needed a new computer bag. One with wheels because I carry almost everything I own with me – and my old bag was breaking my back and shoulders.

A red leather computer bag. I need to fly somewhere just so I can stroll this baby through an airport. Maybe I can hang out in front of a conference room and pretend to be at a meeting of people with important-looking computer bags.

3-Legged Stool of Survival

Another overnight on-call is coming up. Now that I am more than halfway thru my CPE internship, I am starting to wonder about myself the same things I wonder about patients:

  • what is giving your life meaning now?
  • gosh, you’re going thru a lot, what coping strategies do you have?
  • do you ever consider a good metaphor for what you are going thru?

Okay, I don’t really ever wonder that last one about patients. But for myself…I’ve been wondering what my three-legged stool is for surviving this summer. You know, the three-legged (because that is how many it takes to hold something up) stool used to talk about investing, leadership, or even Anglican theology? A timeless metaphor.

What are the three essential things keeping Mary from falling over?

Those might sound a little snarky to you. How about something more serious:

But really, what it boils down to is this:

 

The New Rules

These are the new rules that will help me survive CPE this summer:

Pacing: I have been spoiled, I know. Before this summer, I worked mostly from home at my own pace. Took breaks whenever I pleased. Spent most of the day sitting at a computer. Now I am on my feet most of the day, have set office hours, and hardly any time for breaks. How do people who work in offices get their laundry done?! I start every day exhausted and end every day revved up from the encounters I’ve had. To make it through, I’m going to have to use my non-work time wisely. On the other hand, my legs have never seen so many stairs in a single day. That’s good, right?

Eating: See above. I used to eat whatever I wanted whenever I was hungry. Now, I pack a lunch and hope not to forget my travel mug for routine caffeine reinforcement. Some of you will remind me that I could eat at the hospital cafeteria. Go ahead and eat there if you want, I will not be dining there very often – one visit taught me that. On the other hand, every Wednesday is Hot Cookie Day! Cookies as big as my face.

Don’t be afraid to be stupid: This gig is so completely new to me. Everything about it, from the actual patient visits to the technology. I required a remedial lesson in using my pager today. And it isn’t even that complicated. There is no time to be proud in this job, so I hope people can put up with lots of repetition and forgetfulness on my part until things become routine.

Use on-call time wisely: I will have my first overnight on-call this week. (Perhaps even as you are reading this post?) That means spending the entire night (after a full day of work) at the hospital answering calls to emergencies – from 4 hospitals, actually. My colleagues and I have been reminded over and over not to make extra work for ourselves because things actually do happen in the middle of the night and we need to have the energy to handle them. Does catching up on missed episodes of The Daily Show use too much or too little energy? I will let you know, because that is how I plan to use my time in the sleep room. Until I crash from exhaustion. Anyone who knows me well knows that I fear lack of sleep more than just about anything else.

Valentine

As someone who likes to learn about obscure saints – especially through my fav Lenten devotion Lent Madness - it occurs to me that I have been remiss in my studies. For many, many years I have given and received, made and purchased Valentine cards for my loved ones, but not given a thought to the saint that this greeting-card and special-menu holiday honors. Well, today it is time to fill the lacuna in my saintly knowledge. And yours as well. Here is what I found out:

Valentine was a Roman dude. Or maybe two. And he was a priest. Or a bishop. No one knows for sure. But he was martyred for his faith and maybe also because he married couples in defiance of the law. In any case, poor Valentine was tortured and beheaded. Not to make light (well, maybe to make light) but it seems like many people experience similar feelings today when they observe his day – they give all they’ve got for loved ones and get, well, cut off.

For all his bravery and miracles (he cured his jailer’s blind daughter!), he has been made the patron saint of engaged couples and beekeepers, among other things. And, since I got married on St. Valentine’s Day, I happen to know from observance that he seems also to be the patron saint of Bridezillas. I promise I was well-behaved on my wedding day, but anyone who has been to a reception or hotel lobby on that day can tell you, it is full of people martyred by brides. I myself was witness to such a martyrdom when a new bride forced her entire wedding party to re-enact their hotel arrival three times until it looked the way she wanted on video.

Tread lightly on February 14th. Send some nice cards and chocolates. No matter how loved or abandoned you feel, be glad you have not been martyred for your faith or someone else’s wedding fantasy. Also, consider the beekeepers, who have a patron saint celebrated with chocolate and not honey.

Ode to my Breathe Right Strip

When January winds stir golden dust
Of cedars (really junipers) in the land,
My sinuses swell up with ev’ry gust,
Eyes are runny and tissues in both hands.

To ease the pain I’ll swallow any pill
Empty drug store shelves in desperation.
But Claritin, Zyrtec, and Bendryl
Fail to bring my symptoms to cessation.

And so, dear Breathe Right Strip, I turn to you
To save me from this annual nasal plight.
As air flows in, more so than hitherto,
I give thanks that you made me feel alright.

O, Breathe Right Strip! With you I can inhale!
I gasp, I gulp, so happy I could weep.
Over evil pollen I will prevail
And drift off into restorative sleep.