Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sacred Subversions More

thank you for right and wrong
and all the grace and good in between.
we are lost and found.

we are blind and can to nothing but see.
more lord

oh holy dissonance
and also with you
oh heavenly doubt

do my motives matter?

Sing lord your
on-again servant
is listening

- - from the back/inside cover of Conspire Magazine's Summer 2009 publication, vol. 1, number 3

Both Sides

In morning report, my colleague shared the story the previous day's car wreck.

They had been T-boned when the driver ran the red light. While the driver and back-seat friend were scraped and bruised, the front-seat passenger friend ("Sally") was not expected to live. Sally was in critical care. My colleague introduced me to Sally's family soon after our morning prayer time. He cared for them from the moment the ambulances arrived at the hospital.

Now I was on call.

I sat with Sally's mother all morning. She refused to believe what was happening. She loved her daughter and why was she here? She told me how her daughter loved being a girly girl, how she had only yesterday painted her toenails (they were bright pink!) and how she would do anything to have her daughter wake up just then. I listened and loved Sally's mother, affirming her impending loss and how broken God's heart is, too.

When Sally's father joined our conversation at bedside, he expressed his anger. He began sharing his feelings and Sally's mother also shared her anger. The two were estranged, but they agreed that only revenge or worse would be appropriate for the driver of the car.

I was speechless to soothe this angry talk and I wonder if my silence meant that I complied with their sense of needing revenge. In that moment, I wondered what to say or do or be. My heart broke for the family's loss and for the immediate sense of "he will pay for this!" that seemed to fill the space. In my guts, the tension rose. After a while, more family members came for a visit. I left for a break.

At my break down near the chapel, I was approached by a young man. He was the driver of the vehicle and needed to talk. He had been banned from the waiting room where Sally's friends and family were gathered. They had physically removed him. He shared with me his story about what happened and how distraught he was. I heard his self-disgust, his contrition, his deep grief, his broken heart (he loved her!), his self-condemnation, his self-reproach and deep remorse. I listened and loved him. I was filled with sadness as I realized the horror this man was going through.

Where is reconciliation in this? How can I be loving on both sides? What a horrible loss - for both.

I thought about Helen Prejean's experience as spiritual adviser to a man on death row, as told in the book and move Dead Man Walking. Here, she writes about living on "both sides:"

When I told the story in Dead Man Walking, I told stories on both sides because there are two arms on the cross. When we get into these deep life issues, we live in a culture that tries to polarize and say, “Either you’re for the perpetrator or you’re for the victim.” But we have to be for both and it’s the dignity of human life in both. ... all of us are called to do. {I spend my time...} awakening people to the true Gospel call to live lives of mercy and forgiveness rather than vengeance. That’s what I devote my life to.

I am challenged and confronted by this call to be on both sides for the dignity of human life and continue to pray for grace to fill my heart and teach me how.

How are you seeing both sides in this moment?

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. - Gallatians 6:1-3 (The Message)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sacred Subversions

These people have been turning the whole world upside down! Acts 17:6

I heard every siren call -
the skinny ones with their promise of beauty.
The chubby ones and their assurance of success.
The ones in suits and the ones who wear silk.
I was tempted, sure - I was repulsed
each voice, each note
the truth and nothing like the truth.
I tied myself to the journey and sailed into the song-
a passage of good hope;
a pirate with all my teeth

My soul magnifies the Lord
but what of the rest of me?

i went in the closet and closed the door.
i begged to have eyes to see and ears to hear
thy kingdom come

yesterday I managed to oppress no one
the food I ate was grown by my own hands
i wove my clothes out of dog hair and
trash from a Mexican trash heap
i read by the light of the moon - went to
jail to stop a war - cried at the foot of the cross
built a widow a house
taught a child to read
painted a picture using mud, blood,
and guns I had coaxed
out of the hands of
15-year-olds and ground into
a paste.

yesterday i forgave my mother and raised chickens
and then I rode my bike to Palestine
where I listened to bombs drop
and cried while I held a child who asked my why
It was a light day

We are the body -
the hands that serve
the voice that soothes

in every breath
it is an impossible situation
press your finger anywhere on the globe
and it is an impossible situation
organize thousands of women
dressed in white to crush a dictator;
feed every one
inspire everyone
sow your clothes and your food
pick up arms or put them down
and still it is
an impossible situation

luckily we are foolish
enough to show up anyway
today I'll run away with the carnival
and learn to juggle the revolution and quiet adoration

today for the kingdom today for the kingdom
may those who labor give birth
may those who long for life, grow

o jesus
o holy jester
focus our vision

- from the inside cover of Conspire Magazine's Summer 2009 publication, vol. 1, number 3

See me, Feel me

I've been reflecting quite a bit on prayer.

When to pray with a patient, when to not? Whose need is being met? What forms of prayer (i.e. formulated, spontaneous, memorized...?), what names of the Divine (Heavenly Father, Creating Mother, Love Eternal, Gracious God, Jesus...), what voice to use (We ask you today, I pray today, Your sister prays today for...), what posture (lamentation, gratitude, adoration, intercession...) and on and on.

My experiences of prayer in the hospital have been many and varied. More and more, I am leaning into the prayer of presence and the form of touch. I am humbled by God's myriad voices that come from the patients, families and staff. Why do I need to add to that already beautiful music?

The title of this blog is the song that has been bouncing around in my head ever since the following prayer experience happened. Its from the double album Tommy, by The Who, about a "deaf, dumb, and blind boy" who becomes the leader of a messianic movement and was the first musical work called "rock opera." The climax of Tommy was said by many to be the highlight of the 1969 Woodstock festival. As Roger Daltrey began to sing "See Me, Feel Me", the sun began to rise, as if on cue.

Here's what happened. I responded to a Code Blue in one of the critical care units.

(That means someone has cardiac arrested and is, literally, turning blue for lack of oxygen. When we show up for a Code Blue it's anyone's guess what we will find to be and to do in that situation.)

On this day, The Code Blue team was already on the scene when I arrived, with the doctor barking orders, the charge nurse performing CPR, the pharmacist and technician injecting medicines, the respiratory therapist squeezing the blue air bag, the scribe who was recording it all and several other nurses in the room doing whatever was needed.

The code-ee's wife and family were right outside the glass-walled room. Watching. Waiting. Holding their breath. Crying. I was praying that none of them code as well so I breathed aloud like Darth Vader to remind them to breathe. The entire family was on pins and needles as the spouse considered how much longer she would allow the medical team to do "this" to her husband. "What shall I do?" she asked, rhetorically, out loud.

As we watched in horror, we also prayed like this: We all bowed our heads and spontaneously, son put his hand on mom's shoulder. Daughter did, too. Patient's two brothers were there and they placed one hand on each sibling. Random friends put their hands on one-another's shoulders. I was in the back, and followed suit. Not a word was said.

The medical team resuscitated the patient and there was a pause. Stabilized. "Oh, thank God," the spouse replied. The tears flowed freely from released fear and immense gratitude. Sadly, the medical news was that this would not be the last code. Prognosis was that as soon as code-ee's heart rate got to 60 it would arrest again. What would he want us to do? Shall we continue to resuscitate, even though this involves breaking ribs? As she considered this question, he coded again. As the medical team launched into resuscitation mode again, with the spouse and family watching, the touch-prayer chain re-started.

After about a minute, she spoke. "Stop."

They stopped. The touch prayer turned into hugs and tears prayer. The medical team left the room and allowed the family to come in and say their last goodbyes.

No words were said.

We touched him. She felt him. They held him. God healed him, in God's way.

He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. - Luke 24: 38-40

How are you using "touch" to pray with or for others when you show up to the moment?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuggle Abuse

The very large family was gathered in the hallways and sat on each other's laps in the ridiculously small waiting room outside the critical care area. Their loved one was dying and they had to make some tough decisions soon. The nurses had gently asked the family to step outside the unit so that they could clean up their loved one. They would let us know when we could return to spend time with her.

As a new friend or family member arrived, the daughters or husband would break into more tears. "I've cried so much that my face hurts," one said. It was a serious and sad time.

In the midst of this tense situation, we all began to take a breath. A dying-time-out for the fatigued family. And then Tuggle came off the elevator.

"Please step aside," it said.

The crying stopped. The wailing paused. The chatter silenced.

One of the grandkids stuck his foot in front of Tuggle, which made it stop and pause. The lights flickered and the family chuckled. "Backing up," it responded in its attempt to get around. Then the grand kid put his foot behind Tuggle. "Going around, please step aside," it responded. Thankfully, a friend of the family was the security guard and he gently touched the shoulder of the 16 year old. No words were exchanged, but everyone knew that bullying was not appropriate even with Tuggle.

Several family members looked at it, then at me, then at it, and then at me...what is that thing? Comic relief, I replied. Then I explained Tuggles job in the hospital and I asked what the family members thought of that. It provided us a conversation topic other than the dying family member.

I was glad for the relief. We all were. It made me think about the pastoral image of the circus clown. As author Heije Faber writes in the Images of Pastoral Care book, the function of the clown in the circus is to put things in perspective. "[the circus] makes us feel tense and frightened, but the clown puts it back in perspective. In a childish way he makes these stunt-men look a little foolish; he makes us feel that they are, after all, only human and ordinary, and thus re-establishes a sort of spiritual balance."

Tuggle provided a great service in those five minutes of lightness.

Now if only Tuggle would take all my on-call nights....

I tried to think of a scripture reference. I came up with nothing. Any ideas?

How is God interrupting with lightness and distraction in this moment?

Monday, January 11, 2010

One of Each

Last week while On Call, I think I had one of each kind of page. One power of attorney call, one one-of-a-kind request, one pastoral visit with a patient and family in distress, several kinds of traumas (motor vehicle types), and seven (yes, seven) deaths. Seven is a new record for number of deaths in one on-call period.

The thing is, each death was unique. Each one had it's own deeply sad moments. Each one had it's bizarre set of complications. There was the fetal demise, the octogenarian grandmother, the newly retired sister, the middle aged mother, the long lost adopted dad, the newlywed bride, and the young adult father. Each one had it's own family dynamics that affected the survivors' responses. Each one affected the nurses and staff in a different way. Each one had its own theological personality.

And each one was a sacred experience. A holy honor that brought me to tears when I finally got time to process it all, and I'm still processing it.

I hope that no death ever becomes "ordinary."
Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord; And let light perpetual shine upon them. - BCP 502

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day. Ps 139:13 (The Message)

How is God's uniqueness appearing in your life, in this moment?

Demon Be Gone!

I was called to the Emergency Center in the middle of the night. "Can you bring a bible to the patient and, um, talk to her a bit?"

The nurse told me that the patient was "off her meds" and might not make sense. The nurse took extra pains to describe what the patient was like, trying to apologize for the patient's behavior. "I'll be right here," she said,"... really, you only need to stay five minutes."

After introducing myself, the patient exclaimed how glad she was to meet the chaplain. She really needed spiritual food, she said. "And let me tell you how ... can you see that cellophane on the wall? it's freaking me out - and that bar code - you know, that's taking my spirit out of me...Oh I'm so glad to see you, since..." and she proceeded to tell me along this vein how she got to the hospital. Every other sentence, she warned me about the scary bar codes.

"Would you like to pray with me?" Oh yes, and would she. From the opening of my prayer she prayed over my words, with her own. "Yes, Jesus, take this demon from me! In the name of Jesus! In the name of Jesus! Devil be gone!" I prayed and prayed with fervor, allowing her voice and my voice to raise into the room. "All this we pray in the name of Jesus..." AMEN we both shared aloud.

The gigantic tears she shed had made rivers down her face, mixing with her runny nose and pooling on her simple green gown. I reached for a paper towel and paused for her to collect herself. "oh, thank you..." and just when I thought I might have provided some relief, she said, "...if it wasn't for that cellophane and oh look over there at that bar code! It's really freaking me out!..." I wished her peace and handed her the promised bible as I made my exit. I smiled. It ain't about me, here!

Three days and a million other patients later, I was walking down the hallway when this same woman crossed my path. "Hi!" she said. "I am feeling much better now." "Oh! Hi again! I'm glad you are feeling better." "Yes, can you tell me where this department is?" she showed me a piece of paper where she was headed. "Certainly, I can take you there." We proceeded to have a very lucid and chatty time walking to her destination. She really did look a whole lot better! If I hadn't met her in that middle-of-the-night state, I would never have guessed it was the same person!

I don't think it was my prayer that brought this healing and yet I smile at the notion of having the opportunity to exorcise her demon. What's next for the on-call pager, snakes?

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." Mark 16:17-18 (New International Version)

How is God working out demons for you in this moment?

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's All Perspective

It was a crisp, clear morning. "The last time we had weather like this," the pilot explained, "we could see Charlotte from here!" Unfortunately, I was seated facing backwards in the aircraft. All that I could see were the faces of the people sitting across from me and all the equipment that was stored "aft-cabin."

My chatty-buddy fit her helmet-microphone so close to her mouth that the black foamy thing was literally resting on her teeth. She repeated the GPS coordinates of our destination and announced our departure with "four souls" on board. Apparently she knows that you have to "eat the microphone" for your voice to be heard. Serious-lady RN was scrunching up her face in concentration as she drew some large number of CC's of medication as precaution for the patient we were about to meet. The bunge cords were holding the barf bags neatly in the slot on the "wall" between them, just beside the emergency flashlight.

As we flew along, I could peer out the back window of the aircraft and, um, look for other planes. I dug up that memory (from one of my prior lives when I attempted a pilot's license) that trying to spot a plane while flying is like trying to see the point of a pencil when it is placed directly in front of you point-first. It takes a lot of concentration. And imagination.

When we turned to make our landing, the whole world turned sideways. Wow, it WAS very clear out there. Still, I can't tell where Charlotte is, nor any other landmark in this part of the state. It looks like that tree is going to slide into that cloud right about now... oh, and there's the water tower that the radio communications guy said to look out for. Whee!

It's NOT a hard landing. This pilot is a pro.

I wonder if that's how God experiences us, from all kinds of perspectives. Faces, souls, barf-bags, and GPS coordinates. What we see as "sideways" is simply the way things are for God. My hunch is that God's experience of us is creative, unique, and always new. We flew safely in God's love and landed in God's grace. Fluid and still. Thanks be to God!

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective. - Colossians 3:1 (The Message)

What is your perspective at this moment?

Bad Hair Day

Being in the hospital, as a patient or as a grieving family, can wreak havoc on one's hair style. I am learning to enjoy the blessings of freely coifed hair. This is one area that gives me joy and wonder in God's reign here on earth.

The other morning, I was called to be with a family as their father/husband/cousin/neighbor was dying. He was nearing his last breaths when his wife licked her fingers and tried matting down his bed-head hair. He had been in critical care for weeks - there was no changing how his clowny-styled-hair was going to fall. His wife laughed through tears as she tried, in his final moments, to give him some measure of dignity. His kids started chuckling, too, and before we knew it, the whole room erupted in a "we aren't laughing at you, we are laughing with you" kind of way. We were all relieved for the tension that was let loose in her feeble attempt to control his hair.

Another time last week, I was making initial visits and glanced into the room to see if a patient was awake or sleeping before I entered. The aging woman's mid-length hair was - I am not kidding - sticking straight up. It was cartoon-like. I thought to myself, "I'd have to use a lot of product to get my limp hair to do that!" With a smile, I entered the room. I briefly woke her, but since she went in and out of consciousness I simply wished her peace and said a silent prayer for healing. Instead of jotting my usual scribbly reminders about my visit, I drew a sketch of her head on my notes. A few days later, I met her husband at her bedside and he explained her prognosis. She looked at me and her hair was - still - sticking straight up. I smiled, keeping this sketch image as I wondered with awe at this hairdo.

Last Monday on our second helicopter EMS trip, the crew (and I, the rider-along) landed safely at the heli-pad near our hospital. I had figured out how to swiftly unbuckle my wrap-around seatbelt without decapitating myself. I gingerly exited out the side, still wearing my ball-o-foam helmet smashed and clipped tightly to my head. I felt like an old pro as I "ducked" under the whip-whip-whip of the helicopter blades to accompany the patient and the paramedic/nurses into our emergency center. The transport-nurse was yelling something to serious-lady and chatty-buddy was running up behind with several syringes at the ready. The patient's health was declining, but on the helipad was not the time or place to try any medical care. Quickly, they rushed inside with me trailing behind just experiencing all the wind and sounds and critical energy. I followed in turn as they all unclipped their helmets and left them near the communications station on a stretcher outside.

En mass, we accompanied the seriously ill patient to a room filled with the trauma medical team. I was just starting to breath again as the paramedic/nurses were calling out the patient's situation, confirming with the doctor what was going on and what kind of care had been provided on our 10 minute flight in. The whole scene was very engaging and tragic.

Just then, I caught a glance of myself in the reflection of a window. Wow! my hair was completely - I am not kidding - wind blown and flat. All that product that I had used that morning didn't have a chance with that helmet, not to mention the wind of the helicopter before and after our pick up. Oh, well, I thought to myself. I'm having a great time. Hope my hair is, too!

Perhaps that will be the last time I make fun of someone else's bad hair day. "If you spot it, you got it!"

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5

What concern gave you concern earlier that in this moment gives you joy at it's ridiculousness?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Left Behind

As I mentioned in last post, we (the Helicopter EMS) took off pretty early in the morning. After loading the big patient into the aircraft for return to our hospital, Serious-RN looked right at me and said, "Sorry, you'll have to stay here." Then she radio'd back to let our hospital know that one "of us" stayed at this other hospital. They all apologized profusely; it was really okay.

I knew it was okay as I was befriended by the long-retired security guard at this other hospital. After the aircraft took off, he huddled next to me and escorted me through the waiting room to the back of the emergency area. As we sauntered, he proudly told me about his career in the army, about his piloting experience, about how blessed he felt with his life. I felt like I had a new grandfather!

We moseyed into the "major care" area of this other hospital, me with my helmet under my arm and grandpa by my side. We stood near the nurses station until the charge nurse approached us. Grandpa shook my hand vigorously and explained to charge nurse why I was left behind. The charge nurse took over my care.

He was an experienced nurse, I found out. A leader in the regional "emergency nurses association" and good friends with the coordinator of this 'ride along' program of which I was a part. He wanted me to pass greetings along to Mr. Coordinator the next time I saw him. He offered me coffee and a space to stand at the counter for the unit secretary. Just as he excused himself to go care for someone, the unit secretary came by.

She looked curiously at me, but without an ounce of suspicion. I think that emergency room medical workers get pretty used to seeing weird things, like me and my helmet. I said, "pretty quiet in here, eh?" and she shushed me. That's code for, "Yes, it is but don't you jinx it!" As if I have that kind of power (hee hee!). Just then, the emergency room doors opened and in comes a stretcher holding a 150 year old woman, bless her heart, and two strong-looking paramedic women explaining to her 80-something year old daughter where they were going.

One of the paramedics came over and asked with curiosity what was up with me. She took time to hear my "left behind" story and then offered me some coffee and a comfy chair in the family waiting room. (The bubble over my head said, "Oh no, don't put me in the family room! I know what happens in those rooms!") But Ms. Paramedic insisted that I'd be more comfortable there. I resigned and offered the large sofa to my helmet as I snugged into the overstuffed chair. I called Mr. Coordinator and he was just 10 minutes away.

He picked me up just outside the ambulance entrance. Mr. Coordinator remarked about his buddy the charge nurse at the emergency center there. I passed along the greetings. He then pointed to a police car that was just exiting the freeway, remarking how that was his friend, "Joe," who recently helped them in some late night trauma. "We all know each other in this business."

I could see that! The security guy knew the charge nurse who worked with the unit secretary who was amused by the paramedic nurses who drive the ambulances that arrive at scenes policed by folks like "Joe" who contact the helicopter EMS crew for life threatening traumas.

I was left behind, but I was not forgotten. I was part of the web of care and welcomed into a community of emergency medical providers. Later that day, I was in our hospital's emergency center. One of the trauma transport nurses approaches me and says, "Hey, I heard you got left behind at that other hospital. Sorry about that!"

I really felt held by that web of support - all those folks so intricately connected and who feel responsible for each others' vocational interests. I reflect with my colleagues about the theological implications. This has to do with God's presence in our interconnectedness, with our care for each other no matter how strange and welcoming each other since we were once left behind, too.

"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." Exodus 22:21

When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. John Muir

"Humankind did not weave the web of life. We are but strands within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." Chief Seattle Native American Leader (1786-1866)