hospital visits

DNR: Not the Result We Prayed For

Posted in cancer, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, Grief and Grieving, hospital visits on March 9th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

Yesterday as I was making my chaplaincy visits, I visited a man and his wife whom I’ve grown to respect greatly. He was in the process of signing his out-of-hospital DNR for entering hospice care. He has battled a very rare type of cancer valiantly, but the cancer is winning in this life. His words were few. “It’s time,” he said, speaking of entering hospice care.

This is not the result any of us wanted.

We have prayed with great faith for healing, knowing it was against the odds of nature all along. If pure willpower could win this fight, this man would have won. If being greatly loved by so many people could make a difference, it would have.

After he signed the paper and the witness and the hospice representative left the room, we didn’t have words to give each other in conversation that would make any of us feel better or deal better. So we prayed to the One who understands how we feel, the One who can carry us through these difficult times.

The prayer I spoke was one of lament, telling God that this was not the result we wanted, admitting our pain, our frustration. But I also found words to express our love and faith to God in spite of not getting what we wanted, our total trust in Him to provide for our best good. And I also uttered a number of requests — for His care and protection and love for this family as they continue down a most difficult road.

As people of faith, we frequently pray for healing even in the face of long odds. We are praying for a miracle, for an outcome that flies in the face of logic, of reason, of grim statistics of nature.

Sometimes, admittedly infrequently, God grants our deep desire. I rejoice, and my resolve to keep praying for divine intervention is strengthened.

More often, He doesn’t. Then I express my lament, my sadness at the pain of this life. My resolve to continue praying for divine intervention is not lessened, but I am reminded that I, like Job of old, don’t know the answers.

I was reminded of Job yesterday, that in spite of pain and frustration, that he didn’t lose his integrity.

And that it was time to give that helpful book a fresh read.

Hospice: Black Bottom Pie, Dogs, and a Phone Call

Posted in Caregiving, hospital visits, Personal on January 19th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 2 Comments

Black Bottom Pie

Eloise and I were in Florida for the long weekend visiting her brother Steve in residential hospice. I wrote briefly about our visit on Saturday. Here’s a brief update on our Sunday and Monday visits.

Eloise had been thinking about what she could do special during this visit for a while, and decided that making Steve’s favorite dessert, black bottom pie,  would be it. It was the special food their mom always prepared when Steve was coming home. It was his “birthday cake.”

It’s not an easy pie to make. You first prepare a custard, then make half of it chocolate which forms the bottom layer. The other half of the custard has beaten egg whites folded in along with some vanilla, and forms the second layer. After these layers have set, it’s topped with whipped cream. We spent quite a while just shopping for what Eloise needed to make the pie. We ended up having to go to three stores to find an electric hand mixer. It turned out to be one expensive pie, but we just decided to call it priceless.

When we arrived at the hospice, Steve was sleeping, and really didn’t want to wake up, so we watched a little football, and even our cheers and groans at the Cowboys didn’t arouse him. However, a guy came to visit with a therapy dog, and that helped Steve start waking up. He was about to go back to sleep when I started telling him that Eloise had made him a black bottom pie. That made him decide to wake up!

With an aide helping him, he ate a whole piece, mumbling appreciation and even rolling his eyes at how good it tasted. It was worth all of the work to see him enjoy it, to talk about how important it had been in his life, to explain that it was his mom’s recipe. We made sure the staff all got some as well. He talked some, but mostly dozed after eating the pie.

Monday our goal was to take his dogs out of the kennel and take them to visit Steve. It’s been the thing that he has most wanted since this all began. We had planned to do it Saturday, but the kennel was closed for the weekend.

Steve’s dogs are golden retrievers, and though they are good dogs, were quite a handful for us. But once we got them into his room they settled, and aside from wanting to drink out of the toilet, were well behaved. Hospices are dog friendly places, and encourage pet visits. The staff had all heard about the dogs, and all came in to meet them and be part of the time together. Steve really enjoyed the time with them, and talked more and even laughed several times while we were there with them. The dogs didn’t really understand the bed thing, but we were finally able to help the dog Steve raised from a pup to get up on the bed with him so that Steve could hold and rub on him. It was an emotional scene for all of us.

Shortly afterwards, we said our goodbyes, as we had to leave to take the dogs back to the kennel and catch our flight home.

We had been able to have some memorable moments, and it was a good visit.

One of the interesting twists to all of this is that Steve’s condition has stabilized to the point that he will move to a different resident hospice house this week. He doesn’t require the level of care that is provided at his current house. In fact today, Steve called me on his cell phone and we had a good conversation — much better than any we have had in person since this all started. He didn’t remember that we had been there for the weekend, but with prompting remembered the dogs coming and the pie. A week ago he couldn’t talk, and today he has been talking since he woke up.

We don’t know what the days ahead hold. But we know that God has been at work in all of this, and for that we are thankful.

Some Patient Conversations Just Linger

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on September 22nd, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

Yesterday was not normal, if there is such a thing in chaplaincy. I spent four hours making patient visits, only visiting with four people. In that time I might normally see three times that many folks.

That means I had several indepth conversations. They were each different — in substance, in emotional tone, in breadth. Each was driven by what that person wanted to talk about, though sometimes with gentle prompting.

I’ve learned that indepth conversations take me longer to post-process, and that’s true today. One in particular just keeps coming to mind. Partly it’s because he talked about the effects of his disease on so many different aspects of his life. And partly it’s because of the depth and at times rawness of his feelings.

It’s an honor to be entrusted with someone’s deepest thoughts and feelings. But sometimes they are also kind of heavy to carry around. I’m thankful for a God with infinite capacity to accept my burdens and those of the folks I minister to. Today there’s a lot to turn over.

Sometimes My Assignment is Just to Listen

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on August 25th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

Sometimes my assignment is just to listen.

The patient has something they want to say, something he has been working through for some time.  He needs someone who will appreciate what he has to say to sit and listen, to help make it real.

Interestingly, what he has to say is often something I need to hear for where I am in life.

Yesterday one of those times happened.  I walked into a room, introduced myself, and the patient just started in.  It was quickly obvious that he was delivering a well thought out philosophy about his life.  Sprinkled in were facts about his life, good stuff and bad.  But mostly he was telling me about attitudes and deeply held beliefs that he had developed to help him navigate life, especially in those times of great uncertainty such as he is currently facing.

One of his life principles is to live with the anticipation that each day is going to be a great day.  He told me that when he did, that it was amazing how often it was a great day, no matter what might be happening.  He said that it made tomorrow so much easier, like rolling on a round tire, rather than a square one.

He talked about the abundance of blessings in his life, physical and relational.  He also talked about rock-bottom times.  He said that if he wanted to accept the good things, he also needed to be able to accept the difficult.

He and his wife both exuded joy, in abundance.

What he had to say was important to him.  It turns out that it was really good stuff, helpful to me.  But even if it hadn’t been, even if I hadn’t agreed with what he had to say, it would have been important to listen just as intently to validate him as a person, to be an appreciative audience as he rehearsed his strongest inner beliefs and feelings.

That’s how important listening is.  I was again taught that talking is a highly over-rated ministry tool, and that listening is highly under-rated.

Grieving: Expressing in Words What We’ve Lost

Posted in cancer, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on July 13th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

When we have suffered a loss and as we move through the grieving that follows, we often express in words what we’ve lost.

Twitter Post by Karen Putz

Twitter Post by Karen Putz

I was reminded that sometimes how we describe our loss surprises others when I saw this Twitter post by Karen Putz (@deafmom) earlier this week.  Karen’s dad has esophageal cancer, and hasn’t really been able to eat normally for the last couple of months.  So in retrospect, his response to the doctor is right on, but it probably surprised everyone when he said it.

As we’re grieving a loss, we tend to express that loss in ways that are highly personal to us — in ways that truly describe what we miss dearly, and would like to have back.  It’s part of the longing for phase of grief.  Karen’s dad longs to be able to eat his wife’s cooking again — both because it’s good, and because that would mean that he’s dealt successfully with his cancer.

One of my favorite questions while visiting patients in the hospital has become, “What one thing are you praying for today?”

I ask that question for lots of reasons.  It helps me target my prayer with the person to pray specifically for what they want most that day.  There’s often a powerful connection between us as we join together in prayer with the words, “God, my prayer is _____ ‘s prayer.”  And it often provides an opportunity to talk about the real issue the person is struggling with that day.

Karen’s post reminded me of a recent visit.  When I first entered the room, most of my conversation was with the patient’s husband.  The patient was having some pain, and just wasn’t engaging.  But when I asked her if she’d like to pray, and specifically what her biggest request was, she jumped in and took over the conversation.  Her request was simple:  “I want to be able to go back home and take care of my 101-year old mother, and help my sister get there so she can help.”  It represented both what she had lost, and what was important to her.  As we prayed together, she verbally reinforced my words with her “Amen’s” and “Yes, Lord’s.”

It was a special moment for all of us.  Her greatest desire had been heard and then expressed in prayer.

Karen’s post is one reason I’m active on Twitter — I’m always learning, and often being reminded of what’s important.  Asking good questions like Karen’s dad’s doctor did is important.

Thanks for the Twitter post, Karen.  And I am praying that your dad gets to eat your mom’s good cooking soon!