It is 7.20am in the hospital and things are relatively quiet [I just used the “Q-Word” which can tend to jinx you at the hospital, but since I only have 1hr left of my last on-call, I think it’s safe]. This morning at 8.30am I’ll hand over the on-call pager for the last time as this was my last 24-hr on-call. At our hospital, we were required to do seven 24-hr on-calls (168 hours).
I am sitting in the on-call room (see above) right now, after having been paged at 6.10am by a Jewish patient who wanted a visit from the chaplain before his surgery this morning. I can’t say I was in the best spirits as I went to go visit him. Except for my unusually busy and difficult first on-call experience I’ve been able to sleep through the night on each subsequent on-call. However, last night, after falling asleep, I was paged at midnight, 1.00am and 2.30am – and I never really got great sleep after that. So when the pager went off at 6.10am, I wasn’t necessarily excited to get up and go pray for someone.
But when I arrived, Mr. S. was very glad to see me. You could tell that he felt more relaxed and reassured just to see the chaplain arrive and offer ESS (Emotional & Spiritual Support) and prayer. His wife wanted me to know that while they were Jewish, they had their bases covered; they had friends who had given them a rosary that had been with someone in their family through Vietnam and someone else gave them a rosary that was bought at the Vatican. And they were both very appreciative for an early-morning, tired prayer from a Presbyterian chaplain. I prayed to our loving and compassionate God, asked for strength, courage and peace for Mr. and Mrs. S, and that God would guide the hands of the surgeons and all the doctors, residents, nurses, techs and everyone else who would be involved in giving Mr. S. care while he was at the hospital.
Being on-call is a very different experience from the day-to-day encounters of a hospital chaplain. As we go room-to-room throughout the day, we encounter patients who have requested services from the Pastoral Care Department, those who don’t really care who we are, just that we’ll sit and talk with them, and others who really don’t want to see anyone part of any religious group. It can really be hit-or-miss sometimes with patients. Some are very receptive, and others make it very clear that your presence is not wanted. However, the On-Call Chaplain has a very different experience. When you are on-call, it is pretty safe to assume that if you are paged, it is either a crisis or a patient or family member has specifically requested your presence. It’s a much different feeling. I suppose for those of us who enjoy “feeling needed” – you could see how we might enjoy being on-call a little more than the normal daily routine. However, it is also a very unique opportunity to be a stranger who is given permission to enter into very life-changing moments with a family, whether it be the birth of a child, the tragic death of a young father, an elderly mother who has stopped breathing and is coding or a young couple who wants their premature baby baptized because they know the baby won’t live another 24hrs.
All in all, I have enjoyed being on-call; granted, I don’t enjoy being here at the hospital for 24hrs straight, and I get tired of having to stay here instead of being at home with Sarah. But the experience has been amazing and I think it has prepared me for other crisis moments I may encounter in my future ministry. Will I miss the on-call pager? No. Will I miss trying to sleep in the bed in the on-call room? No. However, I will miss being able to witness those holy moments with families and individuals – those moments that sometimes only the On-Call Chaplain is able to experience.