Sunday, September 25, 2005

My First Shift of On-Call

When I did my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Alta Bates/Summit Medical Center, in Berkeley and Oakland, I was scheduled for my share of on-call duty. Once or twice every two weeks, I carried the on-call pager, ready to respond to a pastoral emergency at any time of the day or the night.

But the pager never beeped. After eleven weeks of this, my fellow chaplains began to wonder. Does he turn the pager on? Does he know how to work the thing? Is he ignoring the calls?

We were all incredulous. I had a great run of luck, right up until the last night I had the pager, which finally beeped when I had but two hours left of my last shift. Even that last call was not that hard. The family's own pastor showed up soon after me and took charge. It turned out that I got very little experience with emergency pastoral care that summer, much to the chagrin of all my jealous and tired fellow-chaplains.

My luck has changed. Before I left the chaplain's office this Thursday, I asked one of the veterans if I should stay around for a couple of hours. I asked if it is common to get calls early in the evening. No, he said, you'll only get an early evening call once every four or five shifts. And only once every few months will you get calls in the middle of the night. Go home, he said.

I hadn't driven ten minutes when the pager beeped. I was told of a major family emergency. So I turned around and went back to the hospital.

During the emergency the pager beeped again. Once the major emergency stabilized, I was informed that I had another visit to make. It turned into a busy night, and I didn't get home until 10pm.

As I went to sleep, I thought to myself that after this busy evening, surely I wouldn't get a call in the middle of the night. I was wrong. I got a call at 4:20am. A distraught family was at the bedside of a very ill loved one. Up I got, off I drove to the hospital, and by the time I had charted the visit, it was 8:30am. I went home, showered, ate a big-boy breakfast of ham, eggs, hash browns, and toast (thanks Karen!), and was off again to a full day of training, during which I faded in and out of consciousness.

As I sit and write this, early on Sunday evening, I am still tired. I wasn't tired during the emergency calls. I was a bit numb, and thankful for a liturgical tradition that can supply words when I have run out. But now, even after a weekend of rest, I have not recovered.

This will be a difficult pace to maintain.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Ruth said...

Welcome to the world of coffee and adrenaline. When my kids are sick I go from dead asleep to wide awake and I don't crash until everyone's taken care of and asleep again. Then I shouldn't be allowed to drive heavy machinery! Odd how the body does that for you.
Must be tough to try and learn/ concentrate after such an intense experience.
Blessings.

Sunday, September 25, 2005 8:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Lyn Briggs said...

Hey Preston -- I'm enjoying your blog. And I'm enjoying NOT wearing my pager. One weekend at my CPE site this summer I attended five deaths, and helped two families take their loved ones off life support. It's grueling. I recall feeling sustained during the work, and delayed exhaustion. I know you're doing good work. I pray you get rewarded with some sound sleep and good beer.

Sunday, September 25, 2005 9:55:00 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

you are amazing, preston! these families are blessed to have you.

best of everything to you.

Monday, September 26, 2005 6:59:00 AM  
Blogger Preston said...

I've got nothing on you, Lyn! Five deaths, that's al lot of grief to be see.

I hope I just saw the worst trauma of my CPE, but I kind of dout it.

Monday, September 26, 2005 3:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I empathize with this entry, a lot! My first on-call was last week. In my program they require us to stay at the hospital from 5pm to 8am (just as well; I live an hour from Albany, so it wouldn't make sense for me to drive home anyway). During my first on-call the pager never beeped -- a real blessing, I think, because it allowed me to spend the night learning my way around the hospital. We make rounds twice of the seven ICUs (well, six plus the emergency room), and in the interim we're invited to respond to calls for pastoral care which came earlier in the day (so I spent time with three patients who had requested a chaplain) but I had no real emergencies to respond to. I'm glad, of course -- both because it meant the whole hospital was having a quiet night, and because I'm still not sure how I will respond when faced with major trauma...

Thursday, September 29, 2005 9:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Preston, one of my profs said (speaking about counselling) that you are meeting people on the worst day of their lives. I found that so profound. I think that very much relates to what you are doing these days.
Andrea

Friday, September 30, 2005 9:15:00 AM  

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