First-time introductions can be fraught with misunderstanding. That's especially becomes true when you're a hospital chaplain introducing yourself to sick patients.
Over the years, I've made a list of the ways those introductions have gone terribly wrong. Today, I give you my top four scenarios:
1. 'Get the hell out!'
Yes, patients have actually said that to me more than once. It happened the first time as I walked room-to-room in the oncology ward to invite family members to the free lunch we provided on Fridays. As I was finishing my visits, I came upon a patient I'd not previously met.
"Hi," I said. "I'm the chaplain and ..."
"Get the hell out of here! I don't need a chaplain."
I quickly retreated to the nurses' station to seek some TLC. The nurses couldn't help but laugh, telling me they'd branded the patient as a PIA. (It's an acronym not suitable for a chaplain's column, but nurses will know.)
2. 'Am I dying?'
This questions pops up so routinely in my introductions that during my years as a pediatric chaplain, I often used marionettes to soften my introductions.
One day, I took a prancing zebra puppet to visit a little boy who'd broken his leg in a typical playground accident.
"Hello," I said to the boy and his mother. "I'm the hospital chaplain, and this is 'Stripes.' "
The mother looked at Stripes and then at me. She gulped and asked, to the little boy's horror, "Is my son going to die?"
"No, ma'am," I said. "Your son's fine."
As I was backing out of the room, I wanted to add: "For goodness sake, ma'am! If your son were dying, I don't think I'd have brought a puppet to tell you!" But I didn't.
3. 'Sorry, I didn't mean to flash you.'
One afternoon, while making my rounds as a chaplain intern in the Emergency Department at the University of California-Davis Medical Center, I approached a young lady sitting on a hallway gurney. She was using one hand to hold a blanket over herself. She was using the other hand to hold the tray that contained the remnants of a long night of drinking.
"Hello," I said, "I'm the hospital chaplain."
The woman offered a wobbly hand to shake, but unfortunately, she chose the same hand that secured the blanket to her bare chest.
"Oops, sorry I didn't mean to flash you," she said, as I reached to retrieve the blanket.
After she repeated that oops-move a few more times, I thought it was best to excuse myself.
Finally, the question I get that may surprise a few of you is:
4. 'Are you a Christian?'
Some patients have posed this question nearly as quickly as I'd introduce myself as their chaplain. That's because they know that "chaplain" isn't necessarily a synonym for "Christian." They needn't worry, though, because a good chaplain will show respect for the beliefs of all patients by helping them connect with their spiritual customs and traditions.
That means if you are a Christian hospital patient, you may get a visit from a Buddhist chaplain, or possibly even a New Age or Humanist chaplain. Don't be alarmed; your visiting chaplain will respect your beliefs enough to offer you a Bible and a kind word.
I feel confident in making this assurance because the hospital chaplains I know not only have their own list of crazy introductions, but they list as their No. 1 priority, "Do to others what you would have them do to you."
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist.
If you go
Norris Burkes will speak on "Lessons of Forgiveness in a War Zone" at 6:30 p.m. June 5 at Charleston Southern University's Whitfield Center. The event is free, but seating is limited. Reservations can be made by calling 937-5407 or by registering online at http://epevents.ticketleap.com/chaplainburkes/. The event is cosponsored by Trident Health and The Post and Courier.