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A ray of light in an otherwise dismal hospital visit.

May 4, 2012

Today I just want to share an experience I had this week while in the hospital again for chest pain.  For some of us these hospital stays are frequent and for some rare, but it is always an emotional time.  There may be fear about our condition.  There may be great discomfort related to symptoms or procedures.  Sometimes it’s frustration over being here again or canceled plans, or hospital bureaucracy.  Sometimes the financial worries can be overwhelming.  Whatever the feelings, they always seem stronger when I am sitting in that hospital bed.

This visit was at a different hospital than the one I had been going to.  I no longer have insurance and have had to go on a public medical assistance program.  I’m lucky to have that as many of the surrounding counties do not have a program of this nature.  So, with this program I go to the “county” hospital.  It’s actually a very good hospital with a level 1 trauma center.  I used to work there 10 years ago.  At the time though, I didn’t really get what the patient experience was like.  I had never been chronically ill with no insurance and few to no choices about the care I got.

My stay was much less peaceful than previous hospital stays.  I was in an observation ward that consisted of a nurses station and a bunch of beds separated by curtains.  I was regaled with all the overhead announcements for the ER, all the conversation at the nurse’s station, and spanish language TV from the bed next to me.  All my other stays I had been in a room with a door that could close to keep things quieter.  Also, even though you have people coming and going at all hours at any hospital, at this one there are more.  There are people who come by to ask questions in order to make sure you have applied for all the programs you may be eligible for, case managers, people doing research, multiple doctors because the residents work in teams.  But one of my visitors came at exactly the right time with exactly what I needed.  He was Luis, a hospital chaplain.

When Luis appeared, I was in a particularly frantic state.  I had just spoken to the internal medicine doctor and found I would not see a cardiologist because my case was not “urgent” and she told me the same thing the clinic doctor had said about referral to the cardiology clinic, that the wait for an appointment could be weeks to months.  I broke down then and cried.  I didn’t really want to be here in this hospital, but had hoped the hospitalization would help me get to a cardiologist.  I need medication adjustments to control my near constant angina and the IM doctors are not competent to manage this.  After this doctor left, I tried to pull the bedside table across so I could eat breakfast.  I had been awake since 6am but breakfast did not arrive until 8:30.  The table promptly got stuck on something under the bed and ended up wedged between the bed and wall at an odd angle.  I got up, negotiating the wires attaching me to the monitor and tried to straighten it out.  Then I found that the table was stuck and I could not raise it high enough to go across the bed, at least not without much physical strain that would probably bring on chest pain.  I got back in bed feeling so frustrated and starting to cry some more and pushed the call button, hoping it wouldn’t take too long for someone to come.

A moment later, Luis walked into my tiny cubicle.  He introduced himself and asked if there was anything he could do for me.  I told him about the table and he applied himself to the problem.  We got the table reasonably situated then got back to chaplain business.  I had never had a chaplain visit in any of my previous hospitalizations, though I certainly could have used the support.  I tearfully told Luis my story and my fears about my ongoing treatment.  I shared my frustration with the treatment available at the clinic I go to for primary care and the scarcity of specialist resources.  He listened carefully, then looked at me and said, “You’re an anxious person, aren’t you?”  Sometimes when people say this, it makes me angry because they seem to be using my anxiety to invalidate my problem or suffering.  In this case, I felt understood.  I could feel Luis’ compassion and empathy.  He told me, “I’m an anxious person, too.”  With this very simple observation and self disclosure, he touched me deeply.

He asked if I am a spiritual person and I told him I am buddhist.  He asked what I could tell him about what the Buddha would have said about my problems.  He said he was interested in learning about this because he is christian and was not an expert on buddhist teachings.  We talked about this and about my general outlook on life.  He offered his conclusion, that what I call hope is what he calls faith.  He said it was like ice cream.  I have chocolate, he has strawberry, but they’re both ice cream just different flavors.  His inclusive perspective felt uplifting.  We talked some more.  He could not do anything to help my problems, but he helped me tremendously.  He gave me love without condition.

I am grateful to have had this encounter.  It renews my hope (or faith if you will) to meet a caring person who seems to understand my concerns and genuinely cares about my well being.

Incidentally, I did get that cardiology appointment.  The young doctor called the clinic and got me an appointment in three weeks. Mission accomplished.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ruth permalink
    May 4, 2012 9:47 am

    Thank you so much for this blog!


  2. Reyna permalink
    May 19, 2012 6:36 pm

    You are such a gift and your writing is gold.Thank you for clearly and so perfectly articulating in words your experiences. This is an excellent blog.
    You need to go on the Dr. Oz show and share your story.

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