Changing the Narrative

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Image by Dave Spicer and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license, from Wikimedia Commons.

Lately, I’ve been amazed at how much pondering happens in my mind as I go from CPE session back to my ordinary life (Well, if you can call my life these days “ordinary”.)  One of the things that has been happening has been that the sights, the sounds, the hubbub of a larger hospital has re-engaged long-dormant memories of working in a larger hospital setting.  It has also pushed at me to re-think decades old narratives.

Remember when I sort of expressed happy surprise that the OB nurses actually liked the chaplain’s office?  That was because my old narrative from my training days went like this:

“The OB nurses were awful.  They treated the med students/interns/residents like dirt.  They were mostly crabby and snotty and yeah, once in a while they were nice, but mostly they were just awful…and the nurses in the Well Baby Nursery were the worst. They were always crabbing at us not to touch the babies and there we were, having to do the baby’s first physical, and it was like they kept us from it on purpose.  Not to mention they acted like we were incapable of changing a diaper, or our butt-wiping skills were sub-par, and they were even that way to the ones who had children of their own!”

As we were being introduced to the OB nurses, and life on the OB floor, the nurses were kind and welcoming and helpful, although they were still busy.  I kept wondering, “Why is this picture so different?  Is it simply because it’s a different hospital?  I don’t get it.”

This kept rolling around and around until I had an opportunity to talk to someone a few days later in a whole different conversation, and it started to gel.  I am now a different person with a different role.  I have a head full of gray hair and wrinkles in the places where I smile.  Back then, I was just one in the endless parade of short white coats or too-shiny long white coats who invaded their territory for four weeks and moved on down the road, to be replaced by more people in short white coats or too-shiny long white coats, who asked the same questions, did the same dumb things, and obstructed the flow of traffic while figuring out what they were supposed to do, who ate the food in the nurses’ break room and barged into conversations between co-workers.  The truth was, they were stressed, and we were an endless source of the same irritations.  We thought we were “help,” but in truth we were little to no help at all.

Now, even as a chaplain intern, I have gray hair which presumes at least some common sense (whether that is true or not.)  What I am capable of doing can actually be a help, and therefore they see it as such.  This doesn’t even count the shamanistic aspect of it.  I tend to forget that even in my trainee role, others on occasion may exhibit the tendency that “being kind to God’s mouthpiece” feels a little like being kind to God.  A chaplain to most folks equals “minister” whether they are ordained or not–and although the role of “minister” has lost some truck in today’s more secular society, there are still pockets of deference to the role.

It is another way I am likewise reminded that in this role, I have to be mindful of representing God well–which means I am less likely to spout off, make an untoward gesture, or say something purposefully hurtful.  I am a very different person than that surly medical student that felt insecure and pushed around by people who were much more secure about who they were.  This process all along has been changing me.  I still feel very insecure about it, but the process itself is about trusting God and these days, I don’t think my insecurities come off the same way they did in my late 20’s or early 30’s–which brings up another revelation…

Maybe, just maybe, from time to time, (although I don’t think I was nearly as bad as a lot of my peers,) I had a little too big an ego back then.  I remember on occasion puffing out my chest and swaggering just a little bit like I was the heir to the throne, knowing “doctor” was still the top of the food chain in a hospital and we were doctors in training.  A better life awaited us at the end of the abuse and insecurity–better than the people who seemed to torment us.  When I look back, that must have been nauseatingly insufferable to nurses–and I like to think I was more benign than most in that department.

I wonder how many more of my narratives will change in these next several weeks?  How many times will a fuller and more realistic picture emerge?  What will it feel like to be stripped of my old narratives–stories that kept me alive, vital, and determined to do well and succeed–but now become false idols if I persist in their telling?  How do I change the narrative while at the same time accepting the new narrative without guilt or shame, but instead simply live with the revealed truth of it being how I had to tell the story back then to get to where I am now, (so it had value in its day,) but now I need to simply hand it a gold watch, say “Thanks for your years of service”, and send it on its way?  It will certainly be one of the challenges of all this.

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