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Posted by on Feb 5, 2015 | 1 comment

A Bright Sadness

A Bright Sadness

When I’m not on call at the big hospital, I work at the Cancer Center, which is an outpatient facility where patients receive chemotherapy and radiation. When I first arrived, my boss told me to make rounds in the infusion room and the lobby. I walk into the infusion room, a large open area with chest-high walls dividing each patient’s cubicle. Each person waits in a chair while the medicine drips through IVs with the slow, pained rhythm of a leaky faucet. The nurses use double gloves when hooking up their bags of chemo. The medicines are so poisonous that there is a whole protocol—several layers of nesting plastic buckets—for the event that the chemicals leak. Some of the patients fiddle with crosswords or knitting. Others bring a friend or relative and huddle around their little TVs. Others just watch the room, their eyes always one step behind the nurses who flit from patient to patient. I survey the room for the most approachable patient and introduce myself to a middle-aged woman in...

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Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 | 6 comments

Stand There: Ministry of Presence in a Medical World

Stand There: Ministry of Presence in a Medical World

I am a tall, young, female chaplain with a penchant for costume jewelry and leopard print accessories. When there’s a death or a trauma, I introduce myself to the family. “I’m Caroline, the chaplain. I’m here for your support,” I say, furrowing my brow and mustering all the earnest concern I can. They look up with red-rimmed eyes, say, “You’re a funny-looking chaplain.” During my 24-hour on-call shifts, I sleep in a converted old hospital room with the same millimeters-thin blanket and industrial sheets as my patients. Someone has added a dresser, a rocking chair, and a lamp. No one has bothered to remove the “code blue” panic button—pushed when a patient’s heart stops —from the concrete brick wall. They are remodeling this wing of the hospital, and so some nights there is a constant hammering interspersed with the angry buzz of a chain saw from the empty rooms next door. When I get a page, I rouse and scan the details. “50-year-old man, gunshot wound, level two trauma,...

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