Friday, March 4, 2011

A Glimpse of Community

When I arrived at the hospital on Saturday, I was asked by the dayshift chaplain to follow-up with a patient in the ICU who had been placed on "comfort measures only care" early that day. I visited the unit a couple of times that evening, finding no family present. I prayed quietly by the patient's bedside, hoping that it might bring some comfort to this frail, unresponsive woman.

I came back up the next day during the lunchtime visitation period, again finding no family. Again, I came up during the midafternoon visitation period. This time, I found someone sitting in a chair at the foot of the patient's bed. Only this visitor was not a member of the patient's family; she was the patient's nurse!

The nurse had moved the room's recliner to the foot of the patient's bed so that she could easily see the patient (and the monitor above the patient) and so the patient could see her (should she open her eyes). The nurse was texting, pausing every few moments to look up at the patient. She was a little startled when she saw that I had entered the room. She quickly put down her phone, and simply said, "I just didn't want her to be alone." I asked about her family, and she informed me that they had returned home (about a two-hour drive) after finalizing her "DNR" and "comfort care" orders. After a few more moments of polite conversation, she and I entered that place of simple silence--the solace that comes when nothing needs to be said, only the moment needs to be experienced.

"I think she would like a prayer," come the voice from below me. For a moment, I thought that I had thought this. It took me a moment to return to the room from being on what my CPE supervisor calls "holy ground." I turned and looked at the nurse because I was not quite sure if she had asked. "I think she would like prayer," came the request again. "Absolutely. Would you care to join me?" We bowed our heads, and I spoke to God on behalf of this patient, this woman who was probably totally unaware of what was going on around her. Yet, the prayer that I said was not only for the patient and her departed family. I also prayed for this nurse, this angel who attended to a dying woman and to a tired minister.

Many of us will search our whole lives for community, for people who will love us and accept us for who we are. Those who say that will minister to us, then actually come through with their promise. We are a society of shallow shadow-dwellers, a culture of superficiality. We claim to want community, yet spurn every opportunity to embrace community because we are so focused our "plans," "agendas," "goals" and "budgets." Yet here was a nurse--a woman--who felt compelled to minister to another woman simply by being present with her. She told me that she was taking her breaks in between attending to her other patients to simply sit with this woman. It was touching to me. Despite all of the efforts of our society to pull us apart from one another, the human need to be in community with another human being still pulsates through our soul. I may have been the one who prayed, yet it was this nurse who reminded me of what community is all about.

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