"Be sure to tell them about the challah," my dad says.
When I was in the hospital, every Friday afternoon, a challah -- the traditional Jewish Sabbath bread -- was delivered to my room. From November through December, those loaves of bread measured the length of my stay more accurately than any calendar.
By the time I was discharged just before Christmas, we'd accumulated 7 challahs. Afterward, I was re-hospitalized 6 more times, and each time, we received another.
I believe our grand total was 13.
Hold that thought.
At Mile Marker 5,248 I've been invited to share my story with Jefferson Hospital's Pastoral Care Program, the department of hospital chaplains.
When you picture a chaplain, what do you think of?
Yeah. Me too. But at Mile 5,248 that picture is redrawn.
To prepare the presentation, I ask my parents what they remember about the Pastoral Care staff. And for the first time ever, I hear a play-by-play of the minutes, hours, and days when I first became a trauma patient. How have I never heard these stories before?
It turns out, hospital chaplains played a major role in supporting our family -- and later me -- in ways that can only be described as unexpected blessings:
1. He appeared out of nowhere. As my mom waited, shaken and scared, outside the heavy doors of the trauma bay, a man dressed in plain clothes appeared. He introduced himself as a hospital chaplain. Well, you can probably guess where her mind went. But that impression lasted only a moment because he assured her he was simply there for support. "I'm here to help you with anything you need," he said. And it turns out, he was.
2. He googled a phone number. When the accident happened, I had been on my way to work. So in the trauma room, in the midst of pain and panic (and possibly adrenaline), I wanted my mom to call the school and tell them I wouldn't be in. A short time later, she realized she didn't have the school's phone number. Fortunately, the hospital chaplain was there. He darted off without missing a beat, and returned, in seconds, carrying a phone and the school's phone number.
3. She rescued my lost colleagues. As soon as they heard the news, my school principal and two of my close colleagues rushed over to the hospital. But once there, they couldn't locate my family. Because I'd come in through trauma, my family had remained in the Emergency Department, not in the usual waiting area. The first chaplain's shift had ended, and a new female chaplain had come to support our family. Like magic, she resolved the confusion. Trekking through 3 hospital buildings, she found my coworkers and gently guided them to where our family waited.
4. She handled my mangled bike. That same chaplain stepped up again when a police officer arrived at the hospital carrying my crushed bike. Bent at a sickening angle, it had broken into two pieces. Metal spokes poked out in all directions. "Where should I put it?" he asked my family. (He said I had asked them not to leave it behind.) To my family's relief, the chaplain took charge. She told them she would keep the bike in a safe place. Then she whisked it off so they wouldn't have to worry about it -- or look at it.
5. She made my nights bearable. The first 4 blessings helped my family, but the fifth one helped me. In the hospital for nearly two months, my physical health improved, but I was plagued by post-traumatic stress. I feared being alone, I couldn't sleep, and every time I closed my eyes, I had vivid flashbacks of the accident. Every night became a nightmare. I needed to talk to someone, but who?? A wonderful woman began to stop by my room at the loneliest times. She'd come after my family had gone home, and the lights had been dimmed for the evening. She listened. We talked. She told me she worked the night shift, and I could call her anytime. I didn't realize it then, but she, too, was a hospital chaplain.
At Mile 5,248 I tell these stories, and more, to the members of the Pastoral Care team. And they tell me a few things too.
That chaplain who "appeared out of nowhere?" He was actually on a mission to find my mom. Pastoral Care, I learn, is part of the trauma team. They're wired into the communication network and sent to support families when trauma strikes. There's not only spirit, but science behind their blessings.
Ok. Maybe that part isn't so surprising. But here's what is. Those chaplains, who at the time barely knew us, somehow figured out what we, as individuals, needed. For our family, it wasn't about prayer and faith. It was about PEOPLE.
Human comfort comes in many forms.
As we're wrapping up the presentation, I suddenly remember my dad's reminder about the challah. I tell them.
They laugh, and say -- absolutely -- that was their department too! It turns out, the bread is baked and donated by Jewish Family and Children's Services, and distributed to patients and families by the Pastoral Care team.
Just then a young chaplain pops up from his seat and hurries out of the conference room. He returns seconds later with a freshly wrapped challah.
"For your dad," he says.
Add it to our list.
I know a blessing when I see one.