hospital visits

Tomorrow’s an Early Morning

Posted in cancer, hospital visits, Illness, Personal on June 16th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

Tomorrow’s going to be an early morning.  I’m supposed to have Dad at the hospital by 6:00 a.m. for his procedure.

I’ve never been a fan of early mornings.  Even for fishing, although that’s about the best reason I can think of for getting up early.  Eloise and I enjoy late evenings and slow starts to the morning.

Tomorrow morning’s difficult for another reason.  Dad’s procedure is to remove a tumor from his bladder.  The doctor seems confident it’s cancer.

Fortunately, the procedure itself is quick, although performed under anesthesia.  It only takes about 30 minutes to perform, and then after a couple of hours to let the anesthesia effects dissipate, he will be able to go back to his apartment.

We’ll appreciate your thoughts and prayers as we take this step which will help us learn what’s next.

Underestimating the Power of Showing Up

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on May 4th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

I think I underestimate the impact of just showing up in a patient’s room.

I know I’ve written and spoken about the importance of presence.  And I really do believe that just showing up is a really important part of what we do.  It’s just that I still underestimate its real impact.  I tend to think that the visits where I’ve had a deep conversation with a patient are where I’ve had real impact.

But a couple of recent incidents are helping me better realize the pure value of  presence.

Recently a colleague who visits the same patients a couple of days after I do told me, “Several people commented about how important your visits were to them this week.”

I tried and tried, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a single visit that week that I thought was worthy of that compliment.  It had been a week of visits without real engagement, without deep dialogue.

Then today, I entered a patient’s room and was greeted by name and treated like a lifelong friend.  I was surprised because my only visit with these folks had been last week when they were both trying to rest and in which we only exchanged a couple of sentences and had prayer.  I was probably in the room only three minutes total.

The only explanation is that there is simply a lot more impact on people from just showing up than I feel — even if it’s only for a couple of minutes and no real conversation happens.

I need to come to grips with the fact that what’s  meaningful to patients may be different than what seems meaningful to me.  God does amazing things with the simple act of being present, making a much greater impact that all of the listening and conversational skills I take pride in.  So why is it so hard for us to learn and accept this simple truth?

A First Impression: I Like You!

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on April 27th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

From the moment I walk in from the garage, I start working on my smile, trying to make eye contact with everyone I meet, to connect, so that when I walk into a patient’s room, they are able to sense that I like them.

As I listened to these words come out of my mouth while teaching a section on closing the interpersonal gap with folks we are visiting, I was a little surprised.

I’m used to things coming out of my mouth that are new thoughts.  I understand that with my personality type that I tend to process thoughts by saying them out loud.  So that was not surprising.

And I was not surprised that I was telling the class that I was intentional in practicing my smile and my eye contact on people that I met in the halls of the hospital.  I’ve talked out loud about that before, even written about it.  And it’s not just for the practice — it’s a genuine attempt to make a difference as I walk the halls.

But I was somewhat surprised that I’d verbally connected it with another very important purpose — helping patients’ first impression of me be that I like them.

Trying to have patients sense immediately that I like them — when they are not at their best physically and emotionally and perhaps spiritually — is a way to show my love for them, to validate them as people.  And if I can be successful in doing that, then there’s a chance that I can have the opportunity to meet some of their other needs.

No Place Like Home!

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits, Illness on April 6th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

Maybe the most common desire I hear as I visit people in the hospital is, “I just want to go home.”

“I’ll be able to get better there.  I can eat what I want to eat when I want to eat.  I can sleep all night.  I’ll just feel better.”

For some of the people I visit, when they say home, they really mean home.  For many others, “home” means an apartment close to the hospital.  But for those folks, that temporary home is still home compared to the hospital.

It’s easy for me to believe them, because there’s no place I’d rather be than home.  I always feel better at home.  I feel more like me when I’m home.

So I’m pulling for all of them.  There’s no place like home.  Especially if you’re in a hospital.

Mortality: “I can’t believe God would…”

Posted in Grief and Grieving, hospital visits, Illness on March 10th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

“I can’t believe God brought me through all of this (describing past crises) to let this cancer end my life.” cancer patient

“I can’t believe God would…” or something like it is a phrase that all of us use from time to time as we try to make sense of what’s happening in our lives.  Our reasoning is based on what we know, what we feel, and what we want.

The phrase that fires in my mind when I hear someone else utter that phrase is, “But I can believe God would, because I’ve seen it in the lives of other faithful people.”

I don’t say it out loud, of course.  I’m not there to batter hope, or to argue theology, as if I was qualified.  But there’s this conflict in our minds because our experience, our logic, our understanding informs us that while sometimes God saves us from tragedy, sometimes He doesn’t.  None of us can explain why, just as none of us can explain God.

I spent some serious time yesterday in conversations with people who were being forced to confront the fact that their disease might prematurely end their lives.  They might not get to see their children grow up, or their grandchildren grow up.  They might not get to grow old with their spouses.  Their (our) dream for this life might not be realized.

These were people with deep faith, a faith we share.  A couple of them used a variation of the opening phrase of this post, giving voice to their struggle to understand what was happening and God’s place in it, voicing hope against long odds that God has another plan for them.

We are all mortal.  But we don’t like it.  All those we love are also mortal, as I’ll be reminded again today when Dad and I go to visit Mom’s grave.  But we don’t like that either.

This life, with all it’s struggles, is precious.  The lives of those we love are precious.  Getting to see kids grow up, to see grand kids grow up, to grow old with our spouse is precious.

Yet because of our mortality, we don’t always get to experience these joys.  Disease, an accident, or the willful act of another can change all of that in an instant, or in a year.

I do express my desires to God for safety, for protection, for long life — for me, for those I love, even often for strangers.  I believe that He absolutely can provide that, and I get to see times when I’m convinced that He has done that against all odds.  But it doesn’t happen all the time, in every situation.

So, like the patients I visited yesterday, I struggle with the thought, “I can’t believe God would…”  It’s not a lack of faith, but more an admission of my lack of understanding His ways.

I’m okay with that struggle because I know, whether He chooses to change the events of this life or not, that He’s made a piece of us immortal, a piece of us that will live forever without the effects of the disease, the accident, or the results of a willful act of another.  And for that I’m so very grateful.