Just like that, they were going to change my day
By Chaplain Gordon Ruddick, Hospital Chaplain, Springfield Oregon
There I was, paying attention, at least fairly well, during what we call “discharge rounds.” Out of that mound of information can come hints, either directly or indirectly, letting me know who I might need to see today. But all that changed when those four words came blasting over the loud speaker : “Code Blue, Cath Lab!” Rounds suddenly became where I had been, not where I was going to be any longer. I piled my papers, excused myself, and moved out of the room. Quickly down the stairs one level to the third floor, two left turns, through a badged door, and I was in the cath lab hallway in the midst of a flurry of important people, looking for whoever was in charge.
I am the chaplain who works the cardiology floors, and so, whenever possible, I take any calls to the cath lab. It’s the area of the hospital that has my heart, you might say. The cath lab represents the possibility of life. And death. And who knows which one it will be? It is a place where mystery exists, where uncertainty is the only thing certain.
“You’re the chaplain” was the callout to me. My head nod affirmed that. And so I was given the quick update, the family information, and taken back to the family waiting area to be with this concerned family. We moved to an inner waiting room. The one the dad had been in before. A room that had negative history for him. Last time there somebody in his family had died.
The next two hours went by rather quickly. At one point in the process I had been able to go back to the actual lab and talk with a staff member, who provided a hopeful update for the concerned family. Sitting with, quietly watching, praying at their request. Just being there. That was my job at the moment. The doctor came in and gave a quick report. The situation was better now. Hopeful. Stents had been placed, blood flow was restored, and the patient was out of immediate danger. She had almost died. But not this time, at least. We could breathe words of thank you.
I took this numerically growing group up a floor to the ICU waiting area, which was where the patient was heading. I got them settled and assured them I would be back soon to check on them, right after I did some self-care, which I also encouraged them to consider.
Just as my lunch was about to go into the microwave four similar words blared overhead: “Code Blue, Surgical ICU!” Different location, same effect. Lunch could wait. I just knew this was the same case and I needed to be there.
I was right. I quickly entered the ICU and asked which room was involved. It was hers. She had coded on the way to ICU. Her heart had stopped and they were performing chest compressions. Lots and lots of activity. Everyone doing their jobs well. The danger we thought had passed was more present than ever. Nobody in that room was thinking about lunch right now.
The doctor in charge was orchestrating the situation well. I watched for a few minutes. No progress yet. I caught her eye and asked if I could bring family in. She looked at me and said, “Two. That’s it. Stay right with them.” I moved quickly to the waiting area and connected with dad and sister. I informed them of the situation and brought them back. We stationed ourselves just outside the room and observed the attempt to save the life of this thirty five year old mother of two young children. Observing active CPR is jarring the first time one sees it. I had my left hand on dad’s shoulder as he looked on and my other arm wrapped around the patient’s younger sister, who had pulled in close under my wing and was quietly pleading, “No, Jesus, not today. This is not the day! This is not the day. You need to fight, sis. You need to fight. I can’t do this right now.” I stood by quietly providing a safe place for her to plead.
One more attempt was made, one more test, and then the moment arrived when the doctor had to inform us that her heart had no remaining function. The battle was over. The attempts stopped. The monitor went silent. And I held them in the swirling sea of tears and attempts by staff to console.
A while later, after sitting and talking with the sister about what had happened and what might be coming, I heard a phrase from her that I will not forget. She thanked me. That’s not unusual. But what she thanked me for was what I had not heard before. “Thank you for holding me while I snotted on your shirt!” I just chuckled and said, “No problem. It’s just a shirt.” A bit later the realization came to me: I’ve got another shirt. She doesn’t have another sister.” It puts things in perspective.
As a chaplain, I really cannot often be the “answer man” for people, because often there are no answers to the questions they are asking, or at least ones I have access to. And it’s not really what she needed, anyway. Maybe what I can be is best described as “anchor man.” In a swirling world, full of fear and frustration, I need to stay firmly planted. Mouth shut, heart open. Maybe a few tears leaking out. Just being. Calm in the midst of chaos. Love in the horror of loss.
Join me in thanking God for kind, compassionate hospital chaplains like Gordon who daily respond to people in crisis in Emergency Departments (ED/ER), Intensive Care Units (ICU/CCU), Birthing Centers and Hospice settings across America. He is one of 28 hospital and 14 hospice chaplains endorsed by CBAmerica. Pray for the Spirit’s direction in assessing and responding with Christ’s compassion and direction in each situation.
For more stories by and about CBAmerica chaplains, go to our webpage at www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. To request a brochure on chaplaincy or what it takes to be endorsed as a chaplaincy, contact Andy Meverden, at firstname.lastname@example.org.