I visited a patient in the Coronary Care Unit during my regular rounds one day. As I entered the room I noticed that Jane Doe, an elderly patient, was intubated (breathing tube down her throat) yet also awake, which is unusual. Her hands were covered with large mittens like hospitalized boxing gloves except for one thumb and index finger with a monitor attached. The mittens were to restrict her from pulling on the incredibly uncomfortable breathing tube. She was unable to speak, use her hands or communicate her needs. Her face was so sad. It was a pitiful sight.
Not knowing exacly how to be a chaplain for her, I introduced myself, said a few other words and tried to understand her facial expression crying out to be heard. I stood in silence with her doing my best to meet her on her level.
After some time of silence with a few words sprinkled here and there she reached out her weak mitten covered hand gesturing toward something on my shirt. As I tried to identify what she wanted her two exposed fingers finally caught mine and grasped them. Then her hand, gently holding mine, lowered and rested on the bed.
I finally got the point.
I stayed with Jane for 45 minutes saying little, holding her hand much. Before I left, I placed my hand on her head to brush the hair out of her eyes. Her face fell into my hand as if it had not been touched in days. Her entire body calmed and for that brief moment she finally looked peaceful.
Some days later I returned and met Jane’s family. Upon introductions I was met by her daughter saying, “So you’re the chaplain. She said she wouldn’t have made it without you.” Floored by the comment, my lesson had been learned.
I learned that Jane needed someone to care, to be with her, to touch her and to be recognized as a person while lying rather inhumanely in a hospital bed. This taught me about the gentle power that the pastor can wield: the power to go to people where they are as Jesus did, the power to acknowledge a person's struggle and worth at the same time.
Jane did not need a sermon or religious ritual, she needed me. She needed touched and cared for, and the beauty is these are things I can do out of who I am rather than something I’ve learned.