Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling / Featured

The Life of a Chaplain on a Friday in August

By Brent Raitz

0600 – Rounded in pre-surgery area and offered prayer for nine out of 11 patients that I met before they went in for heart, vascular or thoracic surgery. Provided support to nurse who was vaccinated but got COVID-19 anyway. Today is her first day back after being off for 10 days.

0700 – Reached out to Jehovah’s Witness volunteer to visit patient in H81 who only wanted to speak to someone of their faith.

Brent Raitz is a board-certified (BCCI) staff chaplain at the Cleveland Clinic and has been the chaplain for 11 years over the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute which has been ranked as #1 in the nation and world for 27 consecutive years in heart care. Brent has been endorsed by CBF since 2012.

0900 – Was notified that a 23-year-old patient in the CVICU who had been here for 71 days and was being taken emergently into the OR for a “Hail Mary” surgery. Said prayer with staff.

0915 – Patient in next bed space recognized me from pre-surgery two days ago and asked if I would talk with her and hold her hand because she was anxious while the nurse was trying to insert a line into her hand. Patient thanked me for being a calm presence.

0930 – Paged to pre-surgery for a Catholic patient who was having a drainage line in her brain removed. Patient was extremely scared and tearful while trying to remain hopeful that procedure will alleviate her pain. Offered prayer and emotional support.

1040 – Followed up with family in CVICU who was having a hard time saying goodbye to their family member. Patient was COVID-positive, 43 years old, a nurse and was unvaccinated with multiple comorbidities. Offered prayer with family again. Family still not ready to withdraw technology supports. Staff venting frustration of an unnecessary death.

1045 – Grabbed a quick 15-minute lunch. Attempted to catch up on charting.

1200 – Patient in leukemia unit just received stem cells. Offered a stem cell blessing over the patient with his wife. Patient is hopeful for new life.

1215 – Returned to CVICU to help assist with a Code Lavender called on the unit because of high levels of stress and critical situation of patient in OR. Many staff fearful of poor outcome.

1230 – Code Blue called on patient on step-down unit. Patient rushed to CVICU. Provided support to patient’s husband who was in shock as the patient just got to step-down. Helped walk the husband back to CVICU family lounge. Husband sobbed on my shoulder some.

1300 – Got a text from young couple asking if I was coming to their wedding rehearsal tonight because they are anxious and decided last minute they need to run through things. Evening plans now changed.

1305 – Received page from nurse coordinator to meet with a patient’s fiancé who is in family lounge. Patient has COVID and was planning to get married in five months. They have three children. Just booked honeymoon trip to Alaska two days ago. Wife states medical team told her he has a 20 percent chance of recovery. Held lots of tears. (Update: This patient recovered, and I officiated their wedding!)

1345 – Received page that patient in CVICU died in the OR. Family is so distraught that they cannot will themselves to be bedside. Staff on unit are a wreck. They meticulously clean up the body and box up her belongings. We gather around bedside, cry and pray for some closure.

1530 – Decide that driving home is pointless due to the wedding rehearsal. Instead, the most therapeutic thing I can do after a day like today is to reflect and not push through to the next task but feel all the emotions of the day. It’s heavy. I feel anger and sadness and exhaustion, but I also feel grateful to meet people in sacred places. I am grateful for a team in our department that pulls together when things get hectic. I am grateful for the CVICU teams I work with that feel like family and that they think of me as their pastor on the units. It has been a hard day, but even at the end of such a crazy day, I still love what I do and have done over these past 11 years as a chaplain. I am tired, but it is a good tired. I made a difference today.

In October, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship celebrated Spiritual Care Week—a week dedicated to sharing the stories of chaplains and pastoral counselors ministering across the nation and around the world in a variety of settings. Read their stories and celebrate their ministries at www.cbf.net/spiritualcare2021.

This column first appeared in the Winter 2021-2022 issue of fellowship! magazine.
Read online here.

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