When I am up in the tower on just the right side, those nights I can escape the ER long enough to follow up with patients who were admitted, then I have the best view ever of Hillcrest as the sun sets through the blinds in the hallway.
I spent what felt like two years in that place, though really it was only one year. But that year was broken up by Kyrie being born, and life flights, and working two jobs and sleeping four hours a night. They were hard years. It was where I finally started talking about losing my parents, where I finally started thawing to the idea of friendship again, where the chaos of fostering began to be replaced by the settling that comes with adoption. It was where I knew it was time to just go home to Owasso, and accept palliative care for Kyrie, and just be with my family.
When I see that place, it is like a college campus to me. I was called to chaplaincy and sent there, dove into my pastoral studies there, and “grew up” with colleagues near to my heart whom I will never forget – because they were in the trenches with me. It’s where we walked dark hallways alone at night, laid down to sleep only for the pager to send us to another code blue, and where we learned to sing someone to sleep for eternity. We prayed there, and cried there, and laughed there. We had to face our own selves there, and figure out what to do about it, and managed to come out on the other side again. Residency is intense, and exhausting, and there is nothing left of you at the end of it, except what was really you all along. Everything else is stripped away, and it’s painful and messy and beautiful. That’s what I remember when I see that place.
But now I work down the street, and have spent the last year as a therapist in the ER instead of a chaplain-in-residency. Our team assesses those who are homicidal, or suicidal, or psychotic, or drunk, or high. We make safety plans, transfer people to psychiatric facilities, and refer people to treatment. Clinically, it is very intense but I have loved it.
The schedule is grueling, though, with two weeks of work and then a weekend, and then repeat.
And I don’t usually get home until midnight, which makes me exhausted for getting up to care for the children in the mornings and do their homeschooling, or when I have to sleep then I miss them all together.
And also, I’m a chaplain, so it’s been hard not having that part of me functioning. Serving as a chaplain integrates for me my clinical skills and my spiritual strengths in a way I have never experienced before. It is not easy. It is gut-wrenching to walk alongside a person in what is the hardest moments of their lives, the kinds of moments you can’t undo or fix or help lift them from or from which you can rescue them. It’s hard enough that the church calls us to meetings every October, for personal interviews and blessings and trainings, to be sure we are okay and to be sure we are caring for our communities well.
And now it’s time to return to my chaplain duties. After six months of interviews, lots of Bible Belt discussions about what Mormons believe anyway, and being able pass the questions on Catholic biomedical ethics, I am going to be a chaplain again.
I have accepted a position transfer at the hospital, and I start Monday morning, officially as a chaplain again – approved by the hospital and endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I send monthly reports (about me and my work and my family, not about patients) to the church, and get interviewed again in Salt Lake every October. I will be starting an hour and a half earlier each day, so I can still be home with the children in the mornings but also get home in time to sleep. And I get weekends off, except a Saturday rotation every couple six weeks or so.
I will be serving the women’s floors, labor and delivery, nursery, and the NICU. I will also help cover the ER and carry the on-call pager in the evenings, so I get to help with that work as well to balance things out.
The church told us three years ago this day would come, and it seemed impossible then. We were already sacrificing so much for the children, and there have been times in the last three years that it seemed everything would fall apart (if I did). But we endured, and did our best, and are coming through the other side just like we were promised.
Mostly, Nathan is very excited for me to get some sleep once in a while, and the children are very excited for me to be home again on the weekends. I am excited to finally have Sundays off after these rough years. I know that’s part of hospital life, having to take your turn on Sundays, but I will be glad to be back at church more. I have missed it!
We brought the children this week to see my new office in Pastoral Care, and to check out the new chapel. They are so anxious about any changes at all, and will do better now that they have seen where I will be. They like to know where I am and that everything is okay. I know their sweet evening prayers have saved me and comforted me and kept me sane and safe these hard years, and I am so grateful for their sweet love.
So tonight when I leave the hospital, it will be the last time I leave as part of the behavioral team.
When I come back to work on Monday, I will be a chaplain, just like that.
And on my first day there is a potluck right at lunch time when I come to work.
Because you know why?
Because that’s what chaplains do: they break bread.