Nurses like to bitch. It's what we do to ameliorate the hell of being a nurse, of being torn between the lab and the doctor or the patient and the family or the law and ethics. We bitch, we moan, we make bad, bad graveyard jokes that anybody not in the profession would blanch to hear. But, at the end of the day, we have one tool in our arsenal that nobody else in the hospital has:
We're the ones that make patients feel better.
Think about it: if you're hurting, or you have indigestion, or you have some weird itchy rash that needs to be taken care of, who do you ask for help? You hit your call bell and you ask your nurse. And your nurse either brings you pain medicine or gets you some Maalox or finds you some magical cream to help your owie. Nobody else in the hospital can do that as reliably as we can. Sure, it's a pain in the ass sometimes to call doctors or fight for pain relief or get a scrip for X Miracle Cream, but we do it, and people feel better as a result.
It must be hard to be a hospital chaplain, because things just aren't that easy for them.
The chaplains have to deal not only with the people who are hurting and afraid, but with family members who are probably hurting more and are more frightened than the patients. Believe me: when you're a patient facing down a surgery, fear is a minor part of what you're feeling. Other people are handling that for you; you're much more concerned about whether the anesthetic will work or if you'll spill your guts in post-op, then vomit uncontrollably.
We nurses deal with specifics. You hurt, I bring you pain medicine. You've had a stroke and so your left arm is weak, so I teach you how to strengthen it.
Chaplains deal with the tough shit. Why is this happening to me? I didn't do anything to deserve this; why do I have to go through it? Is giving up a bad thing? Is giving up on Mom or Dad or Grandma a bad thing? Is it really giving up, if you think that maybe that person is ready to go? Am I ready to let them go? What, exactly, does letting go mean?
Why does God let things like this happen?
We nurses deal with specifics. Why does my body do X and Y when my brain has done Z? There are concrete answers to that. After enough time, every nurse can say with confidence that he's seen this sort of thing before, and this is what you have to expect in the future.
Chaplains don't get that certainty. They get certainty of a sort, because without a belief in some sort of Greater Good, they wouldn't be chaplains. What they don't get, though, is easy answers, or concrete examples, or even the ability to reassure people that, while things seem unfair, they really do end up moving toward good. All of that is predicated on a much, much longer timeframe and bigger scale than we humans have.
We may bitch, but we have specific, timed, and measurable goals to hit. We have ways of judging our performance that people whose care is focused on the soul don't have. They do what they can and trust to the future and take their comfort where they find it in a way that we don't have to. We're lucky: we might deal with blood and puke and shit all day, but they deal in pain and loss and sadness. And occasionally reconcilliation and hope, but I think probably less than they'd like to.
I'm reminded of something that Susan Palwick said in one of her ER poems over at Rickety Contrivances of Doing Good: it's so easy for *us* to feel holy when *they're* asleep. That, I suspect, is the only break people like Ginny get.
Hug your chaplain today.