We have completed 3 weeks of CPE and we are just now beginning the fourth. I think you can tell how much of my time it consumes by the amount of blog entries I’ve written recently. I’m finding myself more comfortable in my role as “chaplain” and visiting patients has become easier as well. At first the follow-up visits were always a little awkward. Depending on the patient, I wasn’t sure what else to talk with them about after having covered “the basics” during the first visit. But I’m learning how to ask better questions, to practice my “reflective listening” skills and continue to build relationships with patients.
I think I’m going to stop asking other people about their CPE experiences. When I do, I generally hear “Yah, we have one on-call to do in the summer” or “Nope, no on-calls.” Last night I heard about someone who has to be on-call but that means they stay at the hospital until 8.30pm and then go home and come in some on the weekends. But no overnights. My goodness. It just isn’t good for me to talk with others and then think about how much time Robert Wood Johnson requires. For a summer field education placement through Princeton Seminary, you have to put in 350 hrs in the summer. Well, since we are putting in eleven 40-hr weeks, and seven 24-hr on-calls, that makes our total hours somewhere around 570 hrs. And we pay $600 to do this. And some of us will have paid around $200 for transportation to/from the hospital. No, I’m not bitter. But it is pretty crazy.
At any rate, I had my second on-call on Friday night. It was relatively calm compared to my first on-call experience. My pager didn’t go off between 11pm and 6.30am, so I was able to get some good sleep. However, it’s never really “great” sleep because you’re always afraid you’re going to miss a page. While it was a quieter night, I did have to deal with a fair amount of death. I sat with one family as they faced the body of their deceased relative; watched as the girlfriend stroked his face and body, knowing it would be the last time. I was in the room while doctors told two separate families their loved one had died (or “expired” in doctor/nurse lingo). I still prefer “died” – as one of the staff chaplains said today: “Magazine subscriptions expire, milk expires; patients die.” I said a prayer over a 70-yr old woman who died, and prayed with another daughter who lost her mother in the morning to cancer. Many encounters with death.
But CPE is not all doom and gloom, no. It has its humorous moments as well. I walked into a patient’s room today and introduced myself as the chaplain, to which he immediately responded with, “I’m Jewish!” Normally the phrase, “Well, we’re trained as multi-faith chaplains, etc., etc.” comes to mind, but it didn’t this time. Instead, my response was: “Well…sounds good to me!”
However, my shining moment of the day happened when I walked into the room of a woman actively dying of cancer. Her husband and children were all present and they asked me to say some prayers. So I offered, “Why don’t we say Psalm 23 together and then close with the Lord’s Prayer?” The family thought that would be nice – so I looked at the husband, and then began with, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” At that point I realized that no one else knew Psalm 23 except for myself and the husband. So we continued, “He maketh me lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. He restores my soul…”
“He restores my soul.”
Apparently I didn’t know it either.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what came next. The husband continued with, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” I joined in, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
The husband then leaned over to me and said, “Maybe you should speak up a bit…”
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t think of the next line. Now, I know at this point my mother must be dying reading this, because we memorized Psalm 23 in the King James Version as children, and she probably would never have thought that her son would have forgotten the words. Especially not since I’ve been listening to “The Lord is My Shepherd” over and over the past few weeks.
I realized I was done – and the husband couldn’t remember anything else either. At this point, I leaned over to him and said, “I’m a little rusty with Psalm 23, maybe we could move on to the Lord’s Prayer.”
“Good idea,” he replied.
And we all joined in together, “Our Father, who art in heaven – hallowed be thy name.”
Saved with the Lord’s Prayer – AMEN!