Hey friends, a couple weeks ago, I was in the ER. Not as a chaplain, but as a patient. I’m okay today, but wow—what an experience. It was both awful and affirming.
I was at work (so fortunately, already at the hospital) and had lost my balance and gotten feverish and was shaking like crazy. It all happened pretty quickly: I went from high-fiving fellow chaplains to hugging the wall with a 101 fever.
I was given a bunch of tests: a blood draw, X-ray, CT scan, a long Q-tip that went as far up my nose as possible, a rectal exam, and 350 ccs of rectal contrast. It was all pretty invasive and embarrassing stuff. The loss of autonomy is remarkably fast and total. I was half-naked under my gown. To use the restroom, I had to call for the nurse to disconnect my IV and oximeter. I didn’t have my toothbrush or phone charger; not a big deal, but things I’ve taken for granted. I’ve seen this sort of thing hundreds of times with patients, but of course, it’s a whole other thing to switch places.
The nurses and doctors were incredible with how gentle they were. They narrated every step of each procedure. They maintained my privacy. They kept me updated with total clarity. And when I returned to work later that week, no one made it weird. Well, I did, for the guy who inserted the rectal fluid. I blurted out, “I’m glad it was you!”—and immediately regretted my decision.
The most important learning for me was the value of chaplains. Two of them were with me. It was a huge difference having a chaplain in the room, and the impact stayed. Sometimes I’ve wondered about what I do and what it actually means for people, but I get it now. The power of presence, of a connection to the divine, is so crucial in crisis. To have someone pray for you when you’re that vulnerable is like nothing else, like the breaking of bread right out the oven, like warm water over cold tired hands, like the first gleam of light in a darkened tunnel. I’m so grateful for my fellow chaplains. Thank God for them. I can’t believe I get to do what I do.
The tests, by the way, came up just fine. A temporary body glitch, or I need to take better care of myself, or I’m just getting old. Like they say, even the Mona Lisa is falling apart. We all get there.
It was pretty scary, but I’m certain my experience isn’t nearly as hard or harsh as many others who have gone to the hospital. I think, at the very least, I have a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be the one looking up from the hospital bed. Thank you to those who prayed and for those who will. I’m feeling much, much better today.
Photo by Images Catalog, CC0 1.0