I’ve had to be at the hospital four days this week as part of GWU Hospital’s volunteer credentialling process.
You have to do not one but two different applications, a physical, a background check (yes, I actually do have a record, which precludes me from running for public office, but hopefully not from being a do-gooder for sick people), a TB test (you need to get two TB tests which means you have to go there four times), a drug test off site (so you don’t steal patients’ meds presumably, though who could blame you for at least considering it after sitting in a ghetto-like office for an entire hour waiting to pee in a cup), a blood test to figure out what you’re immune to (I know I kept a copy of my record somewhere, but as Murphy’s Law would have it when you most need something….)…all this in addition to a general four-hour volunteer training (and Reiki volunteer-specific orientation and training).
This is one of those things in life where the process appears to be intentionally designed to weed out the kvetches from the obedient and calm.
Thankfully, GW is right by Trader Joe’s, so I’ve made proverbial lemonade by stopping by there twice this week after various tests.
I’ve gotten to work on a number of patients this week along with my teacher Luann; five with cancer, one a health care practitioner who wasn’t feeling so hot, and one who was getting test results the following day and thought Reiki would be an excellent freak-out prevention tool.
One of the patients we worked on was in the PACU (pronounced Pack-You, which stands for “Post-Anesthesia Care Unit”), a kind of buzzing, fortress-like space where folks are wheeled into after surgery. The pre-op area is on that same floor. I’ll be working more frequently in these places — especially when I get my volunteer credential and a coat to make me look like I officially belong inside the beehive. (A side note: I’m really worried my coat will be pink. I’ve seen them in the volunteer office and they make my skin crawl, perhaps because my skin is more yellow-toned that any Asian I’ve ever met. Pink, as a result, makes me look like I should be IMMEDIATELY hospitalized. Luckily, I’ll already be in one.)
It seems like a growing number of doctors find that surgery goes better when patients are not freaking out right beforehand, hence the request for the Pink Coats.
The not-freaking-out thing is no small thing.
When patients are anxious, or in a lot of pain because the meds they’ve been prescribed aren’t working, or they’re scared to death of death, they’re often classified as “difficult.” If you’re difficult, it seems like the hospital staff just don’t want to deal much with you. Or at least this is what I’m gathering from the few conversations I’ve had thus far with hospital staff and in palliative care meetings. Many patients appear to be in single rooms (though I haven’t visited that many, so I might be completely wrong). I was watching the interviews with the three mothers of the UC Berkeley students who accidentally hiked into Iran and have been in prison for 300 days (http://freethehikers.org/). Sarah Shourd, the lone female, is having a tough time, mainly because she’s in a cell by herself for 23 hours a day. Isolation is tough; while many of us crave solitude, being alone for so many hours a day can exacerbate the fearing mind, the anxious mind, the stressed-out mind. (And these psychological states can lead to a host of physical issues, thanks to their affect on our nervous, endocrine and immune systems.) I’ve been hearing stories about “difficult” patients who call nurses into the room over and over again, for seemingly no reason at all — other, that is, for companionship, and attention.
I don’t know how much Reiki helps in these situations — certainly the presence of another human who cares about you, and who touches you can’t hurt. Neither can the relaxation that many patients report. Maybe it just helps you get through the everyday repeated traumas of being sick — being examined and poked and moved and opened and not being able to control things like the lights or the temperature or the food or even being seen through the identity lens of “patient.”
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about shifting my relationship to large institutions. This inquiry obviously continues and I hope will deepen, if for no other reason than frequency of immersion.
My biggest laugh came during a staff meeting at The Center for Integrative Medicine. We were checking out a detailed diagram about Omega 3s and 6s and trans-fats and how these get absorbed into your cells, and what foods contain what substances. Rabbi Tamara Miller, who does spiritual counseling at the Center, leans over to me and whispers “it’s like interpreting a Talmudic tract!”
The word “Talmud” (which refers to a central Jewish text, said to be the written version of oral law passed from generation to generation, plus lots of rabbinic discussion on matters ranging from ethics to healing) comes from a Hebrew root which can mean both to teach and to learn.
It’s obvious that this fellowship is a kind of personal Talmud, teaching me patience (as in “how many TB tests do you want me to take??”) — and about patient care and the systems through which they’re provided. It’s also prompting me to ask questions of my non-medicalized desire for a Reiki practice. Luann asked me this week if how I’ve incorporated Reiki into my coaching practice. Huh. I haven’t. It reminds me of how another dear friend (and fellow writer, coach, Reiki master, and yoga teacher) Ananda Leeke asked me a few weeks ago if I was planning to teach people how I’ve incorporated Reiki into my writing practice. Huh. Haven’t done that either. (Do I get a booby prize for incorporating Reiki meditations into my yoga teaching?)
So maybe after the skills are embodied and the zillion small but necessary tasks completed, I can start to think about integrating my Reiki practice (which has before this fellowship experience largely been hands-on on healthy people going through some non-medical transition) and my coaching practice (which has mainly been with leaders in the nonprofit world – so called “executive” or “leadership” coaching versus “life” coaching).
Any thoughts you have for me would be most welcome!
And I’d love to ask you what you are most memorializing as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. Feel free to share with me here or journal for 15 minutes by a body of water.