Today is significant for two reasons. The first is that it’s, of course, the 4th of July. Not a favorite holiday, but I still enjoy the day off from work. We celebrated by taking Sadie to the dog park this afternoon (where we saw two people pushing their dogs in strollers. Yes, that’s right. I said dogs in strollers), and then going to a BBQ at a friend’s house here in Princeton. The highlights of the BBQ were great good, fun friends, playing piano and singing The Star-Spangled Banner, My Country ‘Tis of Thee and the South African National Anthem on an old piano in the bedroom, and playing “the stick game” with PTS friends, most notably Professor Wentzel van Huyssteen, who I think purposely tried to take my wife out of the game early so he could win. I got him back, no worries.
Today also markes the halfway point of my summer CPE program. I don’t know how everyone else is feeling right now, but I’m finding that I am pretty exhausted. I do feel like I have my routine down, which is nice. If you’re not careful, CPE can very easily take over your entire life. In fact, I am not sure how people with families are able to survive the summer experience. Not only is CPE a complete drain on one’s time, it is also a financial burden. While my Presbytery and home church in Idaho were amazingly helpful in regard to the $600 you have to PAY to do CPE, it’s still difficult not being able to make any money during the year. I’ve been very frustrated with the whole CPE program this week – not just my hospital (even though they make us work over 500 hrs in 11 weeks (when PTS “technically” only requires 350 hrs), but with the entire idea of CPE. It’s basically just free labor for hospitals all across the nation – even if they were able to provide a small monthly stipend, that would be helpful.
Because of the giant life-consuming factor of CPE, I made a deal with myself, and decided the first week that I would not do any CPE paperwork outside of my time at the hospital. We have Impressions Reports that are due for our weekly one-on-one supervision, and we also have weekly verbatims and significant incident reports. Last week we had a 4-6pg paper on our Motivation for Ministry. So, it adds up quickly. Except for tonight when I had to throw together a quick 1pg Impressions Report for my supervision tomorrow, I’ve done well in doing all of my paperwork with my time at the hospital. While I don’t know if that’s exactly what our supervisors want from us, I’m not too concerned about that. I think part of CPE is figuring out good self-care, and for me, that means only working on CPE stuff at the hospital. It means that I may see a few less patients because I have to write up a verbatim one morning, but I’m okay with that.
Again – as we say over and over again at CPE – “this is not easy work.” It’s not easy to walk into a patient’s room who has just received horrible news. It’s not easy to stand outside a patient’s room, with the family, as doctors, nurses, techs and about 15 other people are in the room trying to bring back the patient’s heartbeat after they’ve gone into cardiac arrest. It’s not easy when they are not able to save the patient, and the family is standing there – just realizing they’ve lost their loved one. It’s not easy to walk into room after room after room again, each day, and have similar conversations (Hi – I’m the chaplain – why are you here? Are you okay? How are you dealing with that?”) – and often times, receive similar answers. It’s not easy to say blessings over stillborns or the 72-yr old great-grandmother who has just died. It’s just not easy work. But, for all of the frustrations, in the end, I will be glad to have gone through the process, dealt with the crises, sat with the patients in silence and struggled with questions of “Why?” and “Why not?” and “Where is God in all of this?”