Thursday, September 2, 2010

CPE - Life - Tragedy

Okay (deep breath) ...

During my time at the hospital this summer, my heart ached for the people I met who were facing horrific tragedies; those who I sat with, talked with, prayed with and cried with.  My heart literally hurt for them; there was nothing I could do to make the pain go away.  They had to experience the pain and the grief that they were going through, nothing could speed it up; I could only be there.  Oftentimes I felt helpless.

Sometimes I felt as though I was in a time vortex - I had no idea if it was morning, night, cold, hot, storming or sunny outside.  I was too caught up in ministry to know; too caught up in people's stories and lives to even care, really.

But then I would leave.  And just like that - I would be home.  It was the strangest thing.

I remember this hitting me hard one afternoon as I was leaving the hospital.  I had spent the last three hours of my day sitting with a woman who had just had a miscarriage.  Her room was cold and dark and she cried for much of my time with her.  It was 4:30 p.m. (the time the chaplains normally left for the day) by the time I got down to the lounge from her room, so I just grabbed my stuff and left with one of the other interns.  As the atrium doors slid open and we were hit with a waft of hot air and bright light as, laughing about something we had been talking about earlier, I thought of the stark contrasts in life.  How did I go from cold, dark and tears to hot, bright and laughter in just three minutes?  It is something I still am wrestling with.

I have a running joke (only it's not really funny) about all of the things that I am afraid to do now after a summer at Grady.  I saw so many freak accidents this summer that worst case scenarios often pop into my head and I can't get rid of them.  I'm working on it, I really am - but it's going to take some time.

Bruce reminds me often that I saw a very unique population this summer. ... That the tragedies I saw were the exceptions, not the rules. ... That part of the CPE process is learning how to not take on someone else's grief, particularly someone who I have just met and most likely will never see again. ... That 'Life in a Level 1 Trauma Hospital' is not 'Life'.

And that's true.  Until tragedy strikes my friends and my colleagues.

Then it gets hard.  Then I am reminded again just how precious life is.  Then I hurt even more, feel even more helpless, because the people who are grieving are people who I know and who I love.

My heart hurts tonight.

I am not going to go into details, because the stories that are on my heart aren't my stories to tell.  But just remember that there are people tonight - people all around the world, people far beyond those who I am holding in prayer - who are crying out in pain right now.

And we should pray for them.  All of them.

And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-18


  1. love that verse. and thanks for the reminder. this was a great post, sarah. i will be praying for you too!

  2. Many, many prayers being sent out today for all those going through difficult times right now. That verse is one of my just always speaks to my heart!

    Have a blessed weekend, Sarah!

  3. I had a psychology professor that had a younger sister who was a hospital chaplain at Duke. It was all she had ever wanted to be and she went straight from her Master's to her doctorate. Then she started working there, day in and day out, and he said she became a different person. She was only able to do that work for two years because she was so depressed. It took her a long time to really be able to recover from all the things she saw and all the grief she witnessed. She's now a professor.

    Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in terms of the effects of grief. My dad was originally in residency for pediatric neurology. But about the same time his first rotation came up, I was turning two years old, and he kept seeing my face on every child he treated. He just couldn't separate the two and he had to switch to adult neurology. And there was a very lengthy list of things I wasn't allowed to do, many very random, because he'd seen something awful happen to another child, ie., diving into a swimming pool, hanging upside down on monkey bars, any type of gymnastics, skiing, water skiing, riding in a soft roof car (jeep or convertible). As I got older the rules laxed a bit, but most of the time I had to sneak if I wanted to do any of the above things. (and that list is only a few of the things) I guess my reason for telling you all of this is that what you are feeling is completely normal! Everyone who works for any length of time in that kind of environment experiences the same things. My dad always tells me that doing what he does gives him the greatest appreciation for life. What once made him fearful and sad now inspires him. And that will happen for you too!

  4. During your time in CPE, my guess is that you experienced some of the anguish, hurt, and grief that Christ experienced in his ministry with the exception that Christ could do something about what he was experiencing. You did the next best thing-- you were Christ to those in those hard and terrible times, maybe feeling helpless, but definitely being the hands, feet, arms, and ears of Christ... have a great holiday weekend!


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