Sum of the Parts

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Location: San Antonio, Texas, United States

Jill of all trades, mistress of none.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I walked in the door from work, after a long day, gladly removed my shoes and threw down my purse and work papers. I was greeted by my youngest daughter with a delighted, “Mom, you’re home!” About the time she hugged me, my pager began to beep. My daughter let out a “Oh no!” as I headed to the telephone to call the hospital.

I am on-call for two hospitals at the same time. The hospital nearest my home was calling. The Emergency Department’s unit secretary was on the line and breathlessly uttered, “Chaplain, we need you NOW.” I asked what was happening. “14 year old, suicide attempt. Parents aren’t here yet, but they WILL need you.”

I hugged my ten year old and slipped shoes back onto my feet. I walked out the door uttering a prayer.

I arrived at the hospital and walked into the trauma room to see my patient. The ED physician and two nurses and a respiratory therapist were working feverishly. Her parents had not yet arrived. The Doctor gave me a report and thanked me for coming.

The patient was intubated with iv. lines everywhere. The doctor explained the situation. “This is a 14 year old girl who was found at home hanging from the ceiling fan. We don't know how long she was down. Her mother found her and had to cut her down and call for help. She’s most likely brain dead.”

I felt like I was going to vomit. A flash of horror swept over me as I imagined the scene. Can there be anything worse for a mother to witness?

The doctor walked away and I walked to the bedside. There she lay, brown hair, mottled skin, machines whirring and pumping. God, How? Why? I leaned down and whispered a prayer into her ear. I had no idea if she heard me, but I needed to be mindful of God’s presence.

I turned toward the door to search for the family, when I saw it: her plaid school skirt and white blouse. When your life is one the line in the ED, they cut your clothes off, scissors right down the front. Doesn’t matter if you’re wearing Chanel or rags. Labels are not respected.

But the skirt… it lay on top of the heap on the floor; shoes, blouse, socks, and skirt. The sight of the skirt sliced right through me. The nausea returned as did a horrible realization. This could be my daughter.

One one of my children struggles mightily with anxiety and depression. She is fourteen. She goes to a private school. She wears a plaid skirt.

This is when it sucks to be a chaplain. When the chaos you enter hits too close to home.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Soul Food

I have eaten a lot of my words lately. And no, they are not very tasty.

The words I keep choking on are those that I’ve throw out at stressed caregivers and overworked women through the years. It isn’t tough to resurrect the essence of those conversations…

Someone grabs me… in the hall at work, or at church. Perhaps someone casually drops by my office under the guise of asking a question or expressing a concern about someone else. Before long the person pours out their heart. They divulge the enormous burden that they are carrying (usually a burden they have shared with no one). They beat themselves up for what they are not doing right, or perhaps for what they THINK they are not doing right. At some point after lengthy listening, I throw this out:

“It sounds like you are suffering under a pretty huge load. I am concerned for you. What are you doing to take care of yourself?”

(Crickets Chip...)

“I know that your family and your work are important to you, but you won’t be able to take care of either of these commitments unless you find a way to care for yourself, to feed your soul.”

My airway just narrowed, then collapsed. Someone please perform the Heimlich.

There was a time, once upon, when caring for myself was rather simple. When there were no deadlines, and doctor appointments, and people who depended on me or expected things from me at home. A time when I didn’t juggle projects and goals and papers at work. A time when marriage seemed easy. Times have changed.

I’ve found that feeding my soul takes work; a commitment on my part. It seems like something that SHOULDN’T, doesn’t it? Like most of us, I guess I want happiness and my sense of wholeness to come easily.

I have eaten a lot of my words lately. I imagine that in my sleep I grind those words while I grind my teeth. The words are not very tasty, and indeed they do nothing to feed my soul.