Here’s a bit of an update about what’s going on –

I finished CPE at the end of May. It was a wrenching end – it was so hard to walk away from the staff and patients. The work never slowed down in either volume or emotional intensity. In the last two weeks I took care of three patients dying of AIDS and their families. All three were gay men; two in their 30’s, one in his 40’s. In one case a medical resident called me to come see a patient with a new diagnosis of HIV. A new diagnosis of anything – HIV, diabetes, cancer, whatever – is a great reason to call a chaplain. I went to see that patient prepared to do what I could to help them talk about their feelings about the situation and glad that a resident had actually thought to call a chaplain for something other than a death. I should have known better. The resident, of course, was nowhere to be found. I checked the patient’s chart. The situation was not good. I would never have characterized it as a visit related to a “new diagnosis.” The diagnosis may have been new, but, based on my read of the chart, I was being called to see someone with very advanced disease. When I got to the room I realized the situation was even worse than the chart seemed to indicate. The patient was actively dying, his body overwhelmed with advanced lymphoma and pneumocystitis. This was a deathbed visit.

After 9 months of CPE I still have a lot to learn – and hopefully I’ll get that fourth unit in sometime. But it amazes me how many difficult things I’ve seen – and how I got used to things that would have blown my mind last fall. The final number of patients on “the list” was 45. Of those, 16 died of cancer, 10 of AIDS, 1 of suicide, 1 of a drug overdose, 1 was murdered, 6 were neonatal or perinatal deaths, and the rest died of a variety of things – cardiac arrest, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke, alcoholism, liver failure, etc. Some of them I knew a great deal about and had talked to multiple times, others I met only in death. I also kept a list of people I thought might die in the near future – and sometimes I had to move a name from that list to the list of people who had actually died. The 25 people who remain on my list of very sick patients (except one, who had severe anorexia) had either cancer or AIDS; a majority actually had some stage of HIV/AIDS plus a cancer that was not considered AIDS-defining. I had met and talked with most of them multiple times and I know something about each one’s story. I hate that I don’t know what happened to any of them.

I have so much more to say about all of this – less about facts and numbers and much more about what I learned from the people I served as chaplain, what they meant to me, etc. but I just don’t have the energy to go there right now. I sometimes have these moments when I miss them and I feel like they’re somehow with me. I need to do something with that list of mine – something to let them go, something to put closure on that particular period of my life and the particular losses I witnessed and absorbed. I’m thinking of burning a printed copy of it. Burning it, maybe with some incense, after telling some of the stories out loud.

In other news some of my closest friends from seminary have moved out of NYC. I’m not good at goodbyes; they make me really panicky. I hate change, I hate uncertainty, and I hate not knowing what a relationship is going to evolve into. I know that very few of those I came to know and love in seminary were ever destined to stay here in the city; heck, I didn’t think I was. Still, it’s hard to let go, hard to face the reality that the majority of these friendships will grow apart, and even people I managed to stay in touch with will be far enough away that we won’t see each other often. At least I met them, at least they’re out there, at least we have each other to turn to when this crazy clergy life gets out of control, but still, it’s hard.
One last thing – I’m getting ordained to the priesthood in less than two weeks. After 6 1/2 years the saga is about to end… and to begin. I’ve started to get really nervous and ask myself a thousand questions – like “what was I thinking?” and “am I sure I want to do this?” A friend told me recently that it would be kind of weird if I felt really calm about the whole thing. Some nervousness, apparently, is healthy. I hope so.
Much to my surprise and delight, one of my parishes is making my stole and chasuble. I’m getting ordained in my home diocese’s cathedral with 5 others, all of whom I’m friends with. We’re praying for cool weather because that building is going to be brutally warm otherwise.

What’s next after that? I’m not sure. As I said above, I’ve been taking a bit of a break so I could avoid going into a new job already burnt out. I’m about to begin the job search process. While I’m not quite ready to leave hospital chaplaincy behind, I’m going to see what’s out there in parish work, and then maybe fit some chaplaincy around it. We shall see what happens.


~ by Sophia on June 8, 2010.

2 Responses to “Update”

  1. Thank you so much for your comment on my blog a few weeks ago. I apologize for being so late in my reply, but with CPE starting and all…I’m sure you can understand :] I’m still struggling with CPE, but I’m hoping it will feel more routine over the next week or so. The worst part is definitely the lack of self-care opportunities. Right now, I’m in the middle of a 13-day stretch with no days off, and other than class days (2 a week), I’m at my clinical site every day, 9-10 hours a day. But I’m learning how to sneak in moments for myself throughout the day, and I pray that I won’t succumb to burnout so early in the summer :]

    Okay, sorry for such a long comment! But seriously, thank you for the encouragement of both your comment and your blog in general. I sincerely appreciate it.


  2. I hate change, I hate uncertainty,

    This made me laugh. I’d almost like to get paid based on how many priests and seminarians say something like this. We hate change, yet here we are. The good news, though, is that we don’t ever get bored.

    By now you should be ordained. Congratulations and hang in there as you move through this particular phase.

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