It was my first after hours hospital visit. A member of the church was headed to the ER and thanks to Facebook, I was in the know.
In the past, when I was informed through Facebook of someone’s impending trip to the ER, I let my minister know and let her respond. This time, for once, I was in a place where I could go. No paper due tomorrow, no family in town visiting.
So I offered to come. The son said yes, and I headed out.
The first lesson I learned was not to park in the clergy lot for ER visits, it is a long walk through deserted lobbies and around construction to the ER waiting room. When I finally got there, I asked for the church member and they went about finding him. The nurse tasked with taking me to him in triage asked if I was family (he had obviously not seen the congregation member OR my clergy badge). When I told him I was clergy, he asked if this meant he was going to die. “Is it really that bad? Did they ask for you? Is he not going to…make it?”
“No, I’m just their minister. They are from my congregation.”
It seemed to baffle him that clergy would come for some non-fatal medical condition. That someone would ask their minister to come for something so “minor.”
It was a response I got for the next two hours from everyone – doctors, nurses, registration, you name it. Every time someone new came, there was a questioning glance, “and you are….?,” and when I had explained, a searching look that basically said “and what exactly are YOU doing here?”
I do not know if they really see so few congregational ministers in their ER rooms, or if it was the sight of a 20 something female with an Asian man and his young adult son that caused people to do a double take. I’m sure in most cases, someone’s minister could much more easily pass as family.
Then I spoke up, asked for a pillow, found out about pain medicine, answered the nurse’s questions when it was obvious the son had not heard and his father had not understood.
No, I am not the translator, his son is here for that. I can’t understand him either, but I happen to have been with his son and him for the last 2 hours, asking questions, and learning when you took blood, what had happened, and that yes, he is in pain.
I am not here to perform the Last Rites. I am not a hospital chaplain called in because someone is on their deathbed. I am here because they are people with whom I have a relationship, whom I care about, and who I believe deserve not only a calming presence in an anxious situation but an advocate.
When updating my senior minister via text, I mentioned the reactions I was getting to my presence. She responded “It is because of House. Or Grey’s Anatomy. No clergy in these shows…They’ve written us out of medicine. But that’s them. Not us. Not God.”
It is so true. On TV, a minister doesn’t show up to support the family of the teenager in a horrible car accident. The cancer patient doesn’t get a visit from her minister, rabbi, or priest…not unless they are there to rail against some forbidden medical treatment. Or to champion some snake oil treatment (or non-treatment). In other words, to be judged inferior to “real medicine.”
Sometimes, maybe, there is a hospital chaplain, to talk to the family. They may just bother to say, “we’ll call the chaplain” without ever showing the conversation.
So, when we are seen in real life, it is like we are Andrew, the Angel of Death on Touched by an Angel – only there when the worst is happening. Clergy is here, must be bad news.
Every time the nurses, the doctor, the orderly asked me who I was, I generally just said “Clergy.” Using their terminology, the word on my badge (that no one bothered to read). I was trying to legitimize my presence, “yes, I have a right to be here. I’m part of the team.”
Next time, I’ll say “I’m their minister.”
Because really, it’s about relationship. Not legitimacy.