Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Response to Suffering

I think that Wednesday is my favorite day of the week for several reasons. First, it means the week is half over. Second, for the CPE students here at Loyola, it means that there's no "group" that day so one can spend the entirety of one's shift seeing patients. Third, I get to go in late which means that I head off to Dunkin Donuts for my French Vanilla coffee (Large with skim milk) and then meander over to the hospital to begin work by noon.

Today promises to be interesting. Early Sunday morning, I met with a woman whose body has been ravaged by cancer. Clutching her teddy bear, this mother of four adult children cried as she told me that she wanted to die, that she wanted to go to heaven, that she wanted to see her parents and grandparents again. She cried as she told me that her children were having a hard time with letting her enter hospice...that they considered it "giving up." She cried asking me to pray with her that she die.

So I prayed with her that she would die.

And today, I believe, she will.

There are a number of medical reasons for this, I'm sure, but it just seems to me that she's now ready. Her doctors didn't give her long to live, to be sure, but it appears that she's at peace with the encroaching horizon of death that looms before her. I pray for her peace and joy and consolation as she embarks into the death, the next leg of her Christian journey.

I titled this post "suffering" because it's something I've been struggling with. Suffering here is that response to one's situation where he/she finds him/herself without recourse, without options, perhaps even without hope. In her case, suffering is a holistic event uniting the body-in-pain with the mind. Perhaps in a terrible cycle, the body's pain informs one's thinking, darkening one's vision and blinding the sufferer who wants to lessen the pain, to step out of the agony. In such cases even the voice words, just raspy breaths, speak for the person. And in this entrapping silence, the hopelessness and misery amplify further the pain felt and the spiral begins another turn.

And what is our response? What do we say? Perhaps the best course is to say nothing and to listen. For it is in listening that we encourage the one suffering to tell her story, to find her voice in the midst of chaos. Our mission of mercy - as Jim Keenan says "entering the chaos of another" - calls us to be present with the person, not to answer the damning question of suffering, but to be with them as a listener.

And so today I will listen as this woman's family prepares for her loss. I will listen as she struggles for breath. I will listen to the sounds of silent tears giving way to sobs as she slips away into the divine darkness that calls her home. And I will listen...just listen...and pray.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Bad Day to Start Yoga...

So I decided, in the spirit of discovery, to try my hand...or yoga. So I went to the fitness center and really got one heck of a good workout on Saturday morning.

Big Mistake.

I am so sore right now that I can't hardly sit. In addition, I've been completely busy: we had the dreaded "Triple Red" Trauma combo (bad car accident) followed by a death, a gang member who wanted to talk about feelings, two lonely patients, a patient who had to be intubated, a woman who has decided to seek no further treatment, a man who speaks no English and who had to be restrained in the trauma bay, and finally the "Code Plaid" mother of a "Code Argyll" son.

I've had no rest, I'm sore, and I'm really hungry.

God, I love working here!

So nothing really of great worth to report. It was a very peaceful week, so I'm grateful for that. I'm heading out to Denver in mid-April (Week after Easter) to spend a few days with Anne Hall and to play her feis. I return to the novitiate on May 6th, so I'm growing acutely aware that my time here in Chicago is waning.

Anyway, I need to do some charting of my visits for the evening, write a bereavement card, and maybe, just maybe, I'll take a nap. I don't know that it will matter much...the cafeteria opens in 45 minutes and for sixty cents I can buy a delicious Styrofoam cup of oatmeal. It's the little things in life that make it worth living!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Back in Chicago

After a fun nine days at home, I've returned to Chicago. I had a most enjoyable St Patrick's Day in Detroit where Eric Styles, Drew Marquard, Mike Singhurse, and I made..."apostolic visitations" of a number of different pubs that we might come to know better the dispositions of the people concerning green beer. I also went to see Eli Roth's "Hostel" on Thursday evening. It was very gory and, to be candid, I'd rather watch a trauma surgeon hack up a person's leg than watch some deranged person do it in a movie.

So that's the story! Not too much else to share. Now that I'm back working at the hospital, I'm sure there will be oodles of things to share over the course of the next few weeks. If I recall correctly, I'm scheduled for the overnight on Friday so, with any luck, I'll have something interesting to write about then. Who knows?

Cheers and blessings on your week!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New York City Boy!

So, for my 200th post, I guess it's fitting that my stupendous news be this:

I'm headed to NEW YORK CITY this August!

Yep, my plans for going to Loyola Chicago have been changed (for me) and I'll begin studies at Fordham University this August. Drew Marquard and I will be representing our province there (may God have mercy on their souls).

Due to the larger-than-usual numbers of men applying for First Studies programs (a happy problem, to be sure) the program at Loyola Chicago was unable to accommodate the four men from the Detroit Province. So, we have been split up: two to NYC, two to Chicago. To be sure, I'm a bit saddened because my first choice was Loyola but I am terribly excited to live in NYC. Heck, there are enough feiseanna up there to keep me occupied, enough bars to slacken my thirst, and I suspect I'll get a decent education, too.

At times like this, I'm recalled to the soaring and ethereal lyrics of those artisans of the English language: the Pet Shop Boys. I think the song is fitting:

When you'’re a boy
Some days are tough
Lying on your bad
Playing punk rock and stuff
Home is a boot camp
You gotta escape
Wanna go and wander
In the ticker-tape

You feel the deal is real
You're a new york city boy
So young, so run
Into new york city

New york city boy
You'’ll never have a bored day
'’cause you'’re a new york city boy
Where seventh avenue meets broadway

The street is amazing
The hoochies unreal
Check out all the hardware
At the latest deal
Hear a song
That'’s the bomb
If you don'’t get the mix
It'’s got eighty-six

You feel the deal is real
You're in new york city

New york city boy
You'’ll never have a bored day
'’cause you'’re a new york city boy
Where seventh avenue meets broadway
New york city boy
This is your reward day
'’cause you'’re a new york city boy
Where seventh avenue meets broadway

Then as the evening falls
You can return it’s calls

You feel the deal is real
You're a new york city boy
So young, so run
Into new york city

New york city boy
You'll never have a bored day
'’cause you'’re a new york city boy
Where seventh avenue meets broadway

What fanfare for the 200th post!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Home at Last

So I am now at home! Hooray!

Here's my projection for the week: I'll be at St Ignatius High School this evening and all day tomorrow giving "vocations talks" to the students. On Tuesday I'll be out at JCU and will be having dinner with friends in the evening. On Wednesday I'm teaching music in the afternoon and meeting a friend for dinner. Thursday will find me driving up to Detroit where I'll spend St Patrick's Day. I'll return to Cleveland on Saturday (early afternoon) and probably get Chinese food at the house. I head back to Chicago on Sunday...not exactly well-rested, I anticipate, but certainly well-connected with old friends.

This is also my 199th post to this blog. That's a lot, although it does include pictures which accounts for many posts. Still, I'll have to make #200 a big deal. Who knows what fun and creative post that might be.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Finally Finished with the Final!


Just a quick update. I presented my unit evaluation on Monday so, apart from patient visits and listening to the presentations of my group members, I am DONE with my first unit of CPE. Yeah! Being done brings with it the added benefit of an extended home visit which I will embark upon Friday evening...which means I should probably make arrangements with my family to pick me up at the airport.

Our Jesuit community has also completed its move. It's been a tiring four days of packing and unpacking, but it is surely worth the time and effort. The house is gorgeous and I'm so glad to be living there. I'll try to post pictures of it soon.

So that's it. I pulled some muscle in my back this morning while I was working out, so I'm a bit sore and stiff now. I'll find a few Advil and, with luck, my pain will abate and I'll be able to be fully present both to my own feelings (because that's important) and to my fellow group members (because that's polite).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Being Alone at Death

SO, I made it into work at 6:15 this evening. This was fifteen minutes before my scheduled start time and I figured that I'd have enough time to buy a coffee to accompany my protein bar. Wrong! I wasn't here five minutes before we were called to a death, an elderly man who died after a long struggle with a disease.

What made me so sad is that he died alone. His mouth agape with his jaw slightly askew and his lower lip sucked into his mouth, a consequence perhaps of his lack of dentures and his dying breath. His hands rested at his sides and his bare feet jutted out from under the cotton blanket, toenails yellowed and untrimmed. And he was totally alone. No family. No friends. No one.

This makes me wonder how many of us are really alone. The idea of dying alone and unloved scares the hell out me. I can't help but wonder what mother may have held this man as a baby and delighted in his new life, a new mother and a new father who selected a name for this child and spent evenings discussing his unfolding future. And over time he probably loved and lost; probably made friends and lost contact with them; he probably knew others and was known by others. I should hope that his life had meaning for others, that his name will be said with a wry smile or a teary eye and that a story will be told about him.

But tonight there was no one to be with him when he breathed his last.

I realize now more than ever how lucky I am to be surrounded by people I love and people who love me. I have my blood family, my feis/Irish dancing family, my music family, and my Jesuit brothers. But it occurs to me that there are many of us, despite how many people we live with, despite the number of years we've been married, who will live and who will die alone. People who will live lives of quiet isolation who are neither known or knowing of another; people who neither love nor are loved by anyone. And they will die alone...they will die as they lived.

I'm not saying this is the fate of my patient. But I can't help but muse on this truth that there are many who die completely alone and abandoned. Homeless persons, the mentally ill, people estranged from their families. Married persons who gave up communicating years earlier but stayed married to avoid the inconvenience of a divorce; religious men and women who stayed in community out of the fear of finding a new way of life.

Tonight I count my blessings to know how I am loved. It's sobering and humbling, really. And I hope that those in my life who have loved me into the man I am today - friends, family, Jesuits - know how much I love them and that, regardless of the distance between us, that none of us is ever alone.

Beginning Lent

I was doing morning prayer today when I came upon the word "hoar-frost" in Psalm 147. Puzzled, I said to myself, "Self, what the heck is hoar-frost?" My curiosity piqued, I resolved to find the meaning of hoar-frost and then, as it is my custom, forgot completely to do so. That is, however, until I arrived at Enstein's Bagels (just one mile north of our house) and bought a copy of the Chicago Tribune. There, at the back of the "B" section, someone posed a question about how the "hoar" got into "hoar-frost." So I learned that basically hoarfrost is frozen dew that forms a white coating on a surface.

I bring thus up simply because I found it serendipitous that I mused over the meaning of "hoarfrost" (a word I doubt I've seen before, although I did know what 'hoary' meant) on the very same day a question about the "hoarfrost" appeared in the paper. My dorky nature thinks this is very cool and I wanted to share it.

Now that we've had our Vocabulary lesson for today, on to more pertinent items. This is our big moving weekend, so ours is a house filled with a flurry of packing and taping and bustling about. The goal is to complete the bulk of our move on Monday and the remainder on Tuesday. It is good, then, that I have to present my final evaluation to my CPE group on Monday as it will clear the way for me to be wholly available to the needs of the move.

I have the overnight tonight, so I hope to post something while most of you are sleeping. This medium has proven to be eminently helpful in aiding my processing of events, so I look forward to sharing with you all any of the key events that may happen tonight. I also hope that there are NO key events, because that means that no traumas/deaths/ethical dilemmas have occurred, which is a good thing too.

So that's it for now. I'm off to finish packing my scant possessions and to learn a new tune on the whistle. I found the first DANU album at the feis last weekend and now have a template to work off of for learning the "Independence Hornpipe." It's a pretty sweet tune that I'd like Michael English to learn, but I suspect it'd be easier for me to teach it if I learned it first.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame