Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Dirty Words of Chaplaincy

*Disclaimer: There is one ‘bad’ word being used throughout this blog post.  My hope is that as you read it, you will look beyond the word itself and into the deeper meaning of what the word represents.*

I was at a webinar with chaplains from the area as we listened to a lecture entitled “A Day in the Life of a Chaplain.”  All seemed to be accurate: praying with patients before surgery, being with family during code blues, hearing the tears of a patient recently diagnosed with cancer, providing support to family members after deaths, performing next of kin searches, responding to trauma pages, etc...  Then one of the leaders began to tell a story about working in a hospital:

It was time for shift change and the daytime nurse was passing on report to the nighttime nurse.  The chaplain was there as the progress notes were being read.  During part of the report, the daytime nurse said, “Patient had a rough day; became tearful so we called the chaplain; chaplain performed PFM on patient and then he began to improve.”  The chaplain thought he knew the hospital lingo, but this abbreviation was new to him.  He asked, “PFM?  What does that mean?”  The nurse laughed and said, “Oh, sorry.  It means ‘Pure F-ing Magic.’  The work you all do – it’s amazing.  You go in to see a patient who is sad and when you leave, they feel better.  The only way to describe something like that is PFM, pure f-ing magic.”

I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard this acronym.  PFM, eh?  So inappropriate…but in a sense, it does describe some of the work we do.  I would never say I hold some special power within myself as a chaplain to perform magic on patients or bring false hope or joy.  But there is something going on in visits that seem to bring calmness to the patient.  As I’ve posted in a prior blog, I believe most of the time people just want to be heard or want to describe their fears, their pains, and/or their frustrations.  I often get paged to come see patients or family members who are sad, angry, or in distress.  But the calming presence and the willingness to listen is often times exactly what people need.  Often times it means finding out their religious tradition and having a prayer or ritual in the room that brings them back to the familiar words and ritual of that tradition.  Sometimes it means turning difficult questions back to the patient, allowing the space for them to explore their own answers.  And even sometimes, it means sitting in the room and crying with them – in the unexplainable tragedies of life which can bring even the most stone-cold people to their knees weeping.

Then I began to wonder: If I don’t believe PFM comes from within myself, where does it come from in visits?  As a Reformed Presbyterian, I came to the conclusion that the PFM has to be the work of the Holy Spirit.  If I believe I am given my energy and strength from the Holy Spirit, I have to believe that the Holy Spirit also provides that for the patient.  Maybe I’m wrong, who knows.  But if I believe in a relational God, I must believe that God is present in our human relationships and able to provide us the necessary PFM.  So my hope is that, as chaplains, we will continue to listen…to provide a calming presence…to share our own emotions as we see fit…and to allow the patient to work him/herself through the muddy waters of life and into the clear streams that lie ahead.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the PFM.