It is a busy week and I am trying unsuccessfully to control not only my part but how others interact with me. As I planned the remainder of my day on Wednesday at noon I received a text that alerted me to an “End of Life” situation that I would be asked to address when I arrived at my second “job”. Life support was to be removed late morning and I was asked to visit with the family as soon as practical. Confident that I would find a peer, Chaplain’s assistant, I entered the hospital confident that I would receive counsel when I arrived at the Chaplain’s office. Chaplain Craig was on vacation and as it turned out, I was it! Armed with the strong belief that God never gives us anything we can’t handle together I headed out into the miles of corridors that make up Eisenhower Medical Center.
Not far from our office and halfway to the chapel I was met by the Director of Volunteer Services and a volunteer who was clearly distressed. Thankful to have caught me they explained that there was a family in the chapel who were in a great deal of distress over the anticipated loss of a member of their family. Well, that’s convenient I thought, it saves me from a visit to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). ( I usually stop at the chapel on my way out to the floors to enter into prayer for all those in the hospital and especially for those whom I will meet on that particular day.) As I entered the chapel it was clear that the two adults were the most traumatized, one in tears is Hispanic and trying to comfort the second young female who is very distressed, wailing and also trying to comfort an infant in a portable car seat. There were two young children, clearly members of the family who were entertaining themselves on an I Pad or similar device. It became rather clear that all I could do was to pray for this family and their loved one as they were incapable of entering into prayer with me. God understands!
It was going to be a difficult day.
I then ventured out doing my best to be confident the Holy Spirit would help me through whatever He had in mind for the remainder of my visits. After visiting with several patients with varying faith backgrounds and somewhat up lifted by relative acceptance for the most part I arrived at the ICU and realized I should stop by to see how the “End of Life” (EOL) patient was faring. The nurse in ICU greeted me and expressed appreciation for the fact that I had come by and after a brief pass down it became apparent there were actually two EOL patients in ICU. The original patient that I had received a request to see was still awaiting my visit or at least his family was waiting patiently. Life support had been discontinued and death was imminent according to the nurse who also asked that I gown up and take precautions as the patient was in limited isolation.
I entered the patient’s room and immediately put on gown and gloves. (It is so hard to feel the power of personal contact when those gloves interfere.) I introduced myself to the family and expressed my condolences for the situation. We chatted briefly and the wife identified as being Baptist along with her husband and their daughter was Methodist. I offered prayer and they immediately offered me their gloved hands as we entered into silence and then spontaneous prayer as the Spirit moved me. I felt blessed to be allowed to be with them at that moment and to pray and they were clearly appreciative. We concluded our prayers and I excused myself to leave them for their vigil.
As I exited ICU I suddenly realized that in my anxiety over the situation I had lost an important opportunity during prayer. I had prayed for the patient, the family, the doctors and nurses. I had asked God to prepare a place for the patient … but I never prayed with the patient! Initially I was devastated that I had not really engaged the patient in prayer. Yes, he was comatose but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t hear or feel our prayers, spoken and silent! The Holy Spirit was right there and lifted me up to realize I had just learned a very important Pastoral Lesson – one I shall never forget.
In later consultation with the Chaplain he recommended always taking a prayer book of some kind along as a guide especially for those “special” opportunities. Using a liturgy that has been well thought through in advance will make the experience much more Pastoral directed. Spontaneous prayer can be used to supplement whatever accepted liturgy we may use. I now carry Ministry with the Sick (Church Publishing Incorporated) with me all day to be prepared. It is a great resource for those who visit the sick in any capacity.
This work is so fulfilling and uplifting and yet I am still only a rookie at being a Chaplain’s Assistant. I have never failed to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit at some point(s) during my days at the hospital. What a marvelous gift – even at a bedside in an End of Life ( as we know it ) situation!