Love, Death, and other Statistics Love, Death, and other Statistics Love, Death, and other Statistics Love, Death, and other Statistics Love, Death, and other Statistics

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 Something I am well known for here is that I don’t have a car. But I can imagine what we do with cars when they break. We call the mechanic and say there is a problem with the car. The flux capacitor is broken or something. Maybe we have to get it towed in. The mechanic will look at the parts carefully, bash and bang and clang and weld things in until they work, and then call you and say, “the flux capacitor has been recalibrated, you are good to go.”    No one worries about if the car needs anything. No one is worried about the car’s feelings. I am not worried one iota about whether the car is scared or tired or angry or wants to go home.  

This was the image that sat with me for 12 straight weeks as I worked in the Scarborough Health Network, as a Spiritual Care Intern. The staff, to make it clear, approached each patient with as much care and compassion as they could. But they were doing it in a larger system set up to treat patients like machines meant for repair, and that itself has consequences.  

For 3 months I would walk the floors of Scarborough General Hospital, working directly with patients, their families, nurses, security guards, and yes, the occasional doctor. This was always something I had on my professional development bucket list and signed up for it before I even started working here at LPCC. Pastoral care is something every minister worth their salt knows how to do, but there it was the difference between learning first aid and learning how to do major surgery. And in doing so I became a better minister.     

This was us on our first day of orientation, where we learned how-to put-on isolation gear so we could visit people in isolation units and the ICU. We would not visit everyone like this, but more often than you might think.   I don’t know about ESG or many of the other churches if you are visiting, but here at LPCC, we are run by accountants and love the numbers. So here is a breakdown for you of my time here.  

-400 hours total, broken into 200 classroom hours, and 200 clinical hours minimum.
- I completed 202 clinical hours, including 113 hours of talking directly with patients and their community of care, including staff, and the remainder in charting and working with staff about these patients.
-I worked primarily on 3 units: Nephrology, Cardiology, and Transitional Care (where patients wait for LTC) and visited every other unit on my evenings and weekends when I solo’d the hospital.
-in total, I visited approximately 250 people of 8 different faith traditions (including 1 Wiccan), 9 languages, and infinite family dynamics. -not including neonatal, my youngest patient was 7, and my eldest was 104.   
-I answered 7 code blues, where a patient’s heart stopped, and you run to wherever that patient is.
-I attended to 11 deaths in total, including 4 miscarriages and stillbirths. Some were when I was there, some shortly after I arrived. My youngest death was 28, the eldest was 98.
-Boxes of tissues used: 3

A typical visit would go like this: I would be either on the floor to talk with any patients that are awake and want to chat, or I would get a referral from a member of the care team. I would introduce myself and say that as the doctors and nurses take care of the body and mind, we are here for everything else that makes us human- the feelings, the memories, the family dynamics, the inner parts of what makes you tick.

So, how are you feeling today?   I want you to close your eyes for just a moment, and pretend you are a patient, something that may be easier for some than others. Never mind the reason you are there, but you are in the hospital for a week. You family comes once a day if that. You share a room with 3 other patients. You are wearing a thin hospital gown that opens in the back and are lying on the bed. Your hair is a mess, proper showers here are a luxury you don’t get yet. The only time people talk with you is to give you your food, or to poke and prod you, to help you to the bathroom (if you can walk to the bathroom period), or to adjust your IV meds. You don’t know when you can go home. You don’t know if you can go home. It is always loud, with beeps and yelling and the tv on blast because your roommate forgot their hearing aid.  

What is that feeling that sits right there, in your chest? What is that emotion that fills the space around you?   For almost all of us, it is loneliness.   

Loneliness was the most pervasive feeling in the hospital. In a building with roughly 300 patients on any day, you can feel so dang alone when the nurses, who have to take care of everyone, can only spend the bare minimum with you. When your friends and family who said they would be there every day aren’t there, because life goes on and things come up. When you have a roommate who you hate, and it is loud, and the lights are on all the time, and you feel that every time someone talks to you it is to judge and critique whether you are sane.   

And then this random person, not even wearing scrubs, walks in and asks how you feel.   

Hospitals are not built for feelings. They simply were not designed that way. They were designed for statistics. They were designed to keep the greatest number of patients alive with the least number of resources used possible. They were designed to collect everything you would need to fix a patient’s body in one place, allow the patient to be poked and prodded and medicated and discharged so the next patient can take the bed and we repeat the whole cycle. In this design, there is almost no room for the clear reminder that humans, shockingly, aren’t machines.   

Jesus’ time, without hospitals and surgeons, would have been even more challenging in some ways for those who need complex care. Our story is around the man who can’t walk. I know we have talked about what it might have been like to be disabled in eras before modern medicine, but to sum it up: it wasn’t good. He was left unable to work and would sit outside on the streets. No wheelchairs or public transit, no disability cheque or assisted living. Just the people around him. They became his circle of care.    

The circle of care is a model that has been around for a while. There are different variations but basically it is not just a bunch of doctors staring at a patient in a vacuum. Patients rely on the presence and participation of dozens of people to heal. And in spiritual care, we are part of that circle. Just as we aren’t surgeons and shouldn’t be trusted with a scalpel, doctors don’t have the time and experience in allowing a patient to slowly open up their soul over an hour. But you know what happens when we do? Miracles.   

Patients cry and tell me they don’t know why they are crying. They aren’t criers. They share their family, their friends, their jobs. They share how they helped create the Canada Post postal code system and speak 3 languages. They share their love of music and stories, and gossip. They share their artwork, beautiful sketches, and needlepoint. They share so many photos of so many cats and dogs and grandkids and the canoe they are working on.  

They share the church that they played the organ in and would move hands and feet to the music of the gospel piece from the hospital iPad. They share stories of going to the first pride parade in Toronto, and everyone after that. And so many shared how they met their partners, in school and in dances and being the only two from a tiny village in Greece. They share the bits that make them human.  

It is not all happiness. They share the family they miss, how a grandfather died in the same room the father is now staying in. How they have taken care of a loved one for 20 years and can’t do it alone for one more day. They share how it was a grown son who gave them the fat lip and they will be missing their daughter’s wedding because they are now here, in the last place anyone wants to be on their daughter’s wedding day. They share that they have been here for 108 days waiting for a bed in LTC and counting. They share the complicated feelings that this miscarriage would have been their 4th child, but they could barely afford the others at home. They share that they aren’t afraid of death, that they are ready. They share that they are afraid to die, but no one will listen to them. They share their loneliness. They share their humanity.   

Wave after wave after wave of these stories, crashing over me and the other students for 202 hours as we held each other's hands like our lives depended on it. If there were Sunday mornings it looked like I was run over by a truck, well frankly, it is because I felt like I was run over by a truck.  

Why bother doing this work? Why bother engaging with people on this level? Because we aren’t machines. Because unlike a car you can leave with the engine pulled out for a week with minimal impact, we have something in us that requires that tenderness. Jesus might call it our soul.   

Spiritual care studies show better health outcomes for patients, including shorter stays, better treatment efficacy, and improved quality of their time in the hospital, regardless of religious affiliation or belief system. Spiritual care helps people deal with hospital anxiety and anger, grief, complex family dynamics, religious or moral codes that may block their care, and simply, reminds patients they are human.   

In today’s gospel, the friends of our paralyzed man knew he would need care. They could have done the math, said it was too much work, and with a pat on the head said, “we do care, but there is nothing we can do”. But instead, they say that the numbers mean nothing, the cost means nothing, and that they will break down the roof, literally, to let their friend meet Jesus. They saw their friend and saw his humanity. Love outweighs statistics every time.   

It was an honour to be able to meet every single one of my patients, whether for minutes or weeks at a time. It was a privilege to be able to share in their humanity and see them bare their souls. It was a reminder that we are called as Christians to be the church in every part of our community. To love and serve others, and to see their humanity. Just as God sees our humanity every day. And God says, “it is good”.