Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hospital Volunteer Stuff

Hospital Dynamics

I volunteer at a local Catholic hospital here in Las Vegas. The unit I've been assigned used to specialize in joint replacement, but now accepts adult patients who are dealing with every malady known to medicine. I hate to admit this, but when I first started volunteering, I felt an almost debilitating fear when I had to address the patients face-to-face. I was afraid of making them unhappy by denying them fluids after they requested it during a period in which they weren't allowed any (typically, when you're going into surgery or are having tests, doctors placed you in an NPO status: "Nulla Per Os" which means "Nothing by mouth") or by informing them that their nurse was busy with another patient, therefore would be a few minutes longer in bringing them their medication. These things I know happen, and NOT because I or any of the staff was either negligent or apathetic. It's considered sound medical operation to deny patients food and water before surgery or medical tests because anesthetics can cause nausea and create a very perilous condition for the patient. Nurses are VERY busy. Taking care of people in a hospital comes with a slew of paperwork, verifications, and a mess of procedural requirements that must be followed before administering any medications. This means that as they're taking care of one patient, simultaneously another patient may develop a need to see her or him.

The Patients

Needless to say, all types of people come and go in a hospital. One of the more memorable individuals was an elderly lady who (poor thing) would speak in indiscernible sounds. I would say a quick prayer just before walking into her room, hoping that when she spoke her jumbled words that at least I would be able to understand what she needed. Unfortunately, it was impossible. Her meshed words were completely inscrutable. I even tried reading her gestures to make out the gist of her concerns. I would later learn from one of the nurses that this poor lady was disoriented and confused about her surroundings. Despite her inability to communicate - which presents another medical problem for the nurses and doctors - I stayed by her side until she was finished saying what she had to say. I told her I understood, and would get back to her as soon as I could (what else could I say?)

Last week I had to apply my signature to a document that stated I had witnessed a patient sign a paper that transferred power of attorney to one of her family members. This was done at the request of the patient, and was overseen by the hospital chaplain. This made me very sad, since it gave me the impression the patient was preparing herself for the worst. She was young, and looked healthier than most people you see in a hospital.

A month or two ago a man came into our unit after undergoing back surgery for a herniated spinal disk. The man was in excruciating agony, and was taking a very powerful medication to diminish the pain on his back. What was his reaction when jolted by the pain in his spine? He would erupt into uncontrollable laughter. It was the oddest most inappropriate combination of laughter and pain that I had ever seen in my life. This man would have tears running down his cheeks, but was it from the pain on his back or from the laughter or was it from both?

In conclusion, I find a sense of solidarity with people who suffer, and a hospital is a unique place where that type of fellowship can be experienced. Perhaps what brings me closer to those broken people (both patient and loved-ones) that I meet there is my own fragility and brokenness. There is something Christ-like about people who are broken both physically and mentally, yet I can't definitively say what it is, but I know it's there. I also know that someday something beautiful will come from all the suffering and the loss.

I like this hospital. Most of the nurses I've come across are solid professionals who have humanity and compassion for the patients entrusted to them. If ever I found myself as a patient there, I would find a great measure of peace knowing that dedicated individuals like them were charged with my welfare.


Shirley said...

Great post Tom. To suffer is to be closer to Christ, even though many people don't think of it that way. Bless you for the work you do, and I hope it brings you great spiritual benefit.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Tom: Thank you for doing the work of Christ with those who suffer. Just be there. It's enough.

Tom in Vegas said...

Thank you Shirley and Cathy. I enjoy the time I spend there very much.

Terry Nelson said...

God bless you - this is a wonderful work.

Tom in Vegas said...

Thank you, Terry. I really do enjoy it.

Jennifer said...

Tom your so wonderful to volunteer your time to such a worthy place. And your right it is in human suffering and despair that we can see Jesus working.
I work in LTC and have found it very spiritually rewarding. I know exactly how you feel.

kkollwitz said...

Hospital ministry is a terrific experience (although it can be draining as well). I never felt like a conduit of the Holy Spirit more than on those Eucharistic Minister visits to the dying. I still marvel at how such a sinful, unworthy vessel such as I could mediate God's love to the suffering.