Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number five. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
I’m always trying to shake this feeling that I’m not fitting in my own skin. That ickiness is always there.
Even when I’m good at something, I constantly wonder if I’m getting it right. It’s like that strange phantom when you go on a trip: Did I grab everything? Do I have my wallet? Where’s my charger? Is the stove off? Am I wearing pants right now?
The moment I visit a patient, the finger-pointing phantom jumps right in my guts and starts twisting batter in my belly. It’s this nauseous churning of self-doubt and second-guessing and burning insecurity. This gleeful little rat-goblin chips away at me as words spill from my mouth.
Oh come on, you shouldn’t have said that.
Oh look, you’ve upset the patient.
Oh dude, your tone was really weird and nasally there.
Oh yeah, you’re doing that loud nose-breathing thing.
Okay, but no one will take you seriously with that hair.
I have a lot of trouble just announcing, “I’m a chaplain.” It’s a powerful thing to say who-you-are with confidence. I’m a doctor. I’m a nurse. I’m a chaplain. I’m a trained professional. I’m a big boy. What really gives me the right to say anything like this? I want to immediately apologize for my lack of knowledge and to explain I’ve only been here for five weeks and that maybe if they want someone more experienced, I’ll barrel roll to the nearest exit and grab a chaplain with normal human hair.
Oh hi, I have no clue what I’m doing and I got lost six times on the way to your room.
I have to act like my own skin really fits me, if not for my own sanity, then at least for the patient not to crawl away from me. I’m still pretending to be a big kid with a jacket that’s eight sizes too large, or I’m just eight sizes too small. That feeling: it’s always there.
Maybe God or fate or the universe knew about it, because I was forced into announcing myself all the time.
I got stopped by a doctor after a trauma alert, and I instantly shrank another size again. The doctor said, “Hey, you’re a chaplain?”
“I … well I just started. Like two months ago. Actually less than that. Five weeks.”
He smiled really big. “Fresh blood, huh? I love you guys though, really. I call you guys for myself all the time, you know that? We get all kinds of people down here, like musicians and service dogs and this harp lady, but the harp lady was really creepy because it felt like we were ushering people into heaven too early or something. But chaplain, yeah, awesome. Thank you for what you guys do. You’ll see me around. I’m going to call you.” He patted me on the shoulder and really meant it.
After another visit to a comatose female patient, I had to call her sister, to confirm something.
“You’re a chaplain?” she said.
“I … yes.”
“My sister, can you pray for her? I know she isn’t awake but I heard she might hear things. She’s a Bible-believing lady. You do things like that, right chaplain? Pray for somebody?”
“Yes. I will.” And I did.
As I was leaving for the night, I took the elevator back down and a woman stepped in. She was a visitor: tired, eyes sunk, hair a frizzy mess. I was feeling sort of the same.
She got off a floor before mine, and I said, “God bless.”
The door closed, but suddenly an arm shot in and yanked the door back open.
The lady stepped in again and said, “You’re a chaplain, ain’t you?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am?”
“A chaplain. Ain’t you?”
“Yes ma’am. I … I’m … I’m a chaplain.”
“I thought so.” She beamed and raised both hands. “When you said, ‘God bless,’ I could hear it in your voice. You all do a wonderful thing here, chaplain.”
“Thank you. Thank you, ma’am. How are you?”
“Oh you know, blessed. He’s got it. Send me a prayer, chaplain.”
“Yes ma’am. I’m on it.”
The woman stepped back. She kept her eyes on mine. The elevator door closed. I did a last wave goodbye.
I thought, This is it. I’m a _____.
And I left the hospital into the night, a size bigger than I was in the morning.