First-time introductions can be fraught with misunderstanding. That’s especially becomes true when you’re a hospital chaplain introducing yourself to sick patients.
Today, I give you my top four scenarios of the ways those introductions have gone terribly wrong:
1. “Get the hell out!”
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.
2. “Am I dying?”
In introductions during my years as a pediatric chaplain, I often used marionettes.
One day, I took a prancing zebra puppet to visit a little boy who’d broken his leg in a 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: “Is my son going to die?”
“No, ma’am,” I said. I held up a reassuring hand. “Your son’s fine.”
3. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to flash you.”
One afternoon, while making my rounds as a chaplain intern at UC Davis Medical Center, I approached a young lady sitting on a hallway gurney. She was using one hand to hold a blanket. 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 chose the same hand that secured the blanket to her bare chest.
“Oops, sorry I didn’t mean to flash you,” she said.
After she repeated that oops-move a few more times, I thought it was best to excuse myself.
4. “Are you a Christian?”
Some patients 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 list as their No. 1 priority, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”