The Taser's Edge

Outside to In, Inside to Out
November 1, 2008, 5:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Over a month ago, I wrote a reflection on my difficulties with entering patients’ rooms. Much of what I wrote about may have had something to do with my personality. I am not one to initiate conversations with strangers in normal, daily life. This week I began feeling overwhelmed again, this time by even the thought of those hospital doors.

One Tuesday, I did one visit, and then spent 45 minutes transcribing the conversation into a notebook and then a Word file. It is factually accurate to say that I need to write several more verbatims by the end of the semester and that the most accurate verbatims come from writing down the conversation immediately. However, to say that I chose those long moments in order to make sure I recorded the patient’s words as accurately as possible is really not true. The reality was that one visit into the day, I needed a break.

It’s not that I feel guilty about it. I was sitting in the break room on the floor. Nurses knew where I was if they needed me. After a couple conversations with my CPE supervisor I knew that this “counted” as clinical hours, because I was still making myself visible and available to the floor on which I serve. What’s more, Duke has no visit quotas for its chaplains. And at any rate, guilt is not what this is about. It’s really about noticing for the first time how my outside experiences affect my ministry as a chaplain (hence this reflection’s loopy title).

Stress Outside: The problem is that I may be transitioning from the United Methodist Church into the Anglican Mission in America.

Stress Inside: I have been going through a period of several days of intense anxiety about choosing next semester’s classes, because of how my denominational decision will affect my class requirements.

Stress Outside: This stress is what was being “acted out” (and I use this in the psychological sense of my conscious actions and emotional state being determined by unconscious emotional sources within me) in my sense of being overwhelmed on my unit.

Stress Inside: I internalized this inability to enter rooms as a failure to be doing what I needed to be doing, a failure of faithfulness, not just to the CPE program, but to God’s call on my life.

Just like it sounds, that’s a lot of stress to bear. Although I recognized long ago that my experiences affect my chaplaincy in a macro- sense (hopefully a no-brainer), this week showed me the same truth in a micro- sense. Not only do all of my life’s experiences determine the shape of how I listen and care for patients in general, but the stuff that’s going on in my life today determines the shape of the visits I make today. It’s something I’m glad to be aware of. It’s also kind of scary.

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