Friday, June 01, 2007

A Teeming Mass of Humanity

After very little fanfare and much confusion, I am a chaplain at Grady Memorial Hospital. I'm not sure how to describe the monstrous place, except to say that it is indeed monstrous. The building is huge. There are people everywhere. Anxiety regularly runs high, and right now funding is running extrememly low. I know that Grady is in the middle of a financial crisis and there are lots of changes going on, but I can't quite tell how much of the energy there is because of the imminent lay-offs and cutbacks and how much is just the day-to-day attitude of this very vital place.

It's overwhelming. I can't tell yet what's the most disturbing. Right now, Grady is just a mass of people and smells and cries and pain and ENERGY. But somewhere caught up in all that energy are threads of illness and brokenness, inequity, injustice, homelessness and addiction, strained relationships and faithful ones, grief and almost unendurable eons of waiting for help or information or healing. If I go on about it for too long, I think, all this might be crushing.

Our group of interns is taking over for a group of residents who have been here since August, and they are exhausted. The grind of grief and diet of adrenaline has visibly taken its toll on these chaplains. I'm glad I've only signed up for three months. ("You can do anything for 10 weeks," right, Dad?)

Still, all of this overwhelming anxious energy seething from every floor of the hospital is, I hope, a good thing. It is life. It certainly isn't life as I'm used to it, but everybody's different, I suppose. This is life in all forms, all shapes and all degrees (if there are such things). This week, I prayed with an unconscious incarcerated burn victim, a brain-dead young man, anxious people about to have surgery, worried mothers visiting their children, and incredibly tiny babies fighting for every breath. I talked with drunken homeless men, anethesized evangelicals, hospitable staff, HIV-positive women, and families from South Georgia camped out in an ICU waiting room - suitcases, Triscuits and all - waiting on their son to come out of a coma. There is so much life here, intersecting and piling on top of itself, that I just don't know what to make of it.

I'm not sure if I should sort it out or just dive on in.

I'm on call Monday night, so it looks like diving in might be my only option.


Leah said...

im sure its overwhelming at first. but i hope you get a chance to see the positive side of it all. people dont go into practice medicine because of the depressing outlook that you seem to have taken here. they do it because they are saving, protecting, and rescuing.
maybe talking to the people who are there as med students might help, see why they want to do what you would never (as far as i know) want to do.

also, at least these people in the hospital are in a hospital. when i was in new orleans, all i could think, looking at those destroyed homes was 'im so glad these people got out'. at least the people you are seeing in those hospital beds got out, from wherever they were, and can now be saved.

JESS said...

i know everyone will say that your being there, praying with, talking with--will be a help, a comfort. But Dana, I'm not sure you will ever understand HOW MUCH it means to them that you were there, praying with them. I know because I was someone that was prayed with...and it meant more than I can put in words. I couldn't help but remember that reading your post. There may be times where you don't feel like its working or helping...but trust me, it is!!!

Karen said...

Someone once had to remind me that death was a part of life. That's true. As much as we would rather it not be, so are pain, illness, brokenness, fear, anger, confusion, doubt - I could go on and on. They may not have been a part of your life so far, at least to the extent you have witnessed them within the past month, but they are indeed part of life.
The things you are witnessing may not be pleasant, they may not be fair. One thing they will be however, is unforgettable. Knowing you, that is a good thing. You will never be able to discard, discredit or ignore those parts of life that are not necessarily within your everyday living.
It will be a hard thing, this internship. You may not decide that it is your place in this world, but you will be able to hold these people and others like them in your heart forever.

Erudite Redneck said...

I have no words of encouragement. "This is life," you wrote.

Being there is enough. You are Jesus to them.

Bless you, young sister.

Erudite Redneck said...

Dang it. My words above have haunted me since I left them. So bleak!

I'm sorry! I mean I have no words of encouragement that you haven't heard before, that you don't already know.

All pretense aside: Hang in there, gal! :-)

John P. said...

Yo! hope that your time at the hospital is going well. My wife is at Northside...which, though an entirely different hospital, has been extremely challenging in its own ways.

Ive just reentered the blogosphere after a hiatus. good to see you are still posting!