Quite a few years ago, I was a volunteer chaplain two evenings a week on our BMT unit. It was a joy to be able to spend time with patients without being encumbered by tasks. After a couple of months, the nurses began looking for me on the unit to ask if I would see certain patients.
One evening in particular, I was asked to see this young man who was experiencing severe GVH. He could not even stand to have the sheet touching his body, because it was so painful. The nurses devised a way to tent the sheet over the side rails to keep him covered. I introduced myself to this young gentleman and inquired as to how he was doing. He really wasn’t interested in talking, so I asked if he would like me to pray for him. He replied, “Not now.”
The following week, I was headed to this patient’s room when I saw a group of young people standing outside it. That’s not so different, right? Right, except where I work, I was not used to seeing folks with black leather pants, jackets, boots, hats, chains, and tattoos.
For a split second, I felt that I was in the wrong place, and that I was not prepared for this. But after a couple of intentional blinks, a deep breath, and a prayer, I said hello to the group and introduced myself.
At that moment, what I noticed right away were scared teenagers who needed someone to see beyond the exterior to their pain and sadness. One of the guys told me others were inside the room with their friend, including the patient’s girlfriend. I stepped into the room and stood beside one of the girls beside the patient. I asked her if she was his girlfriend, and she affirmed.
Several were wiping tears from their eyes. I introduced myself to everyone and asked how they were doing. “Not good” was the general consensus. I told them that I came by to see their friend the prior week, and he did not want any prayer at that time, but if he’s OK with all of us praying for him, would they be open to doing that? They replied yes and promptly asked the others to come into the room.
The girlfriend asked the patient if it would be OK for us to pray, and he said yes. I asked if anyone knew the Lord’s Prayer, and no one nodded, so I said I would pray, and I reached out to hold hands with those on either side of me. When I did, they all held hands, so that no one was left untouched.
I prayed for the patient, and I prayed for each one of them. When I ended, guys and gals alike were wiping away tears. I thanked them for letting me pray with them and then gave each one a hug before leaving the room.
What did I learn?
A very old adage comes to mind -- never judge a book by its cover. Pretty obvious, yes? When I say judgment, it wasn’t in the sense that I thought they were beneath me, or I was better than them. I thought they wouldn’t want anything to do with someone so different from them, much less a volunteer chaplain.
I wondered if I would really be able to give them anything. Oh, ye of little faith -- in this case, both professionally and personally. Once again, kindness and compassion transcended perceived barriers (real or not) to offering presence and care. Lesson learned from yet another angle.
What scenarios have you run into where you thought you had nothing to offer a patient because you were so different from him or her?