Chaplains are diplomatic on the phone. Sometimes when we call family members in an emergency, we don’t mention that we are chaplains. We introduce ourselves as support staff. We aren’t lying. We are support staff. And we are aware that getting a phone call from a hospital chaplain can be terrifying, if only for a moment.
We are calm. We call from outside of the hospital room, away from the intensity and the noise. We want to be able to hear and be heard.
We are methodical, making sure that we are respecting privacy and family hierarchies.
Except for when we shouldn’t be.
I got paged to a “Code Blue”.
The RN said the doc wanted to talk to family.
I found the chart, entered the husband’s phone number in our cell phone, and stepped into the hallway.
There was no answer.
I left a message and went back to check the chart for another number. A staff member handed me the phone. To talk to the patient’s best friend’s husband who was with the patient’s husband at a store. Another co-worker had done my work. She’s found the number on the chart, called her, gotten her husband’s number and made the call. All while I was in the hallway leaving a message.
It turns out that when a team of medical staff are doing chest compressions on a patient and wondering how long the family wants the process to continue, diplomacy, calmness, and methodicalness are secondary to getting the health care representative on the phone.
Chest compressions are hard work. Current research says that you do them more than 100 times a minute, about the tempo of “Staying Alive.” And the chest should go 2” down and return. Which means, of course, that there can be bruising and bone breaks and a less than 50%, less than 40% less than 20% chance of surviving.
In that moment, the medical team needs to talk to family or someone who can give a voice to the patient.
I added a note to the summary sheet I carry with me: “Call until you reach someone.”
Sometimes doctors push harder than I would. They spend less time on average with patients and families than the latter would like. From the perspective of patients, on average they spend almost no time on spiritual conversations. But doctors often are holding the actual physical lives of patients in their hands. And at those moments, I’m learning from my doctor friends.
Call until you reach someone.
I had the opportunity to test my learning one day. A patient arrived from a nursing home. The word from the EMT was that the nursing staff had tried to reach family but had been unable.
I remembered my new rule. I went to our records and made the call myself. It was a different family member, one with a phone that was turned on. I identified myself as support staff, put the family on hold, and got the doctor.
The information was exchanged. Treatment could proceed. Tenacity, even a little, benefited the patient.
For a polite person this is hard. But the life of a patient is more important than politeness.
Call until you reach someone.