“Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle
But put me in summer and I’ll be a happy snowman”
The World’s second most famous snowman, Olaf, sung those lyrics in last year’s favorite movie, Frozen. Olaf loves warm hugs and summer. This trauma chaplain loves warm hugs and has no idea what she feels during the summer but I can guarantee “happy” isn’t one of the feelings.
The summer months at a Level 1 Trauma Center tend to be some of the busiest months for trauma teams and this chaplain is not exempt. My calendar gets locked and my days become a whirlwind blur. During the summer when somebody asks how I am doing, I usually don’t know. I can be exhausted, excited, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, energetic, discouraged, determined, rushed, frustrated or fantastic. I can be feeling any or all of them, in a day or in an hour.
Why are we so busy? It’s summer. Schools are out. People are traveling. Nights are longer. People get angry. Families get together. People get reckless. And no matter what, I promise the North Carolina humidity will cause a few situations that I cannot make up and you will not believe. Oh and we are the only Level 1 Trauma Center on the east side of 95 and the beach is on the other side of us. So yeah, we are busy. No matter what though, there is nobody I see stepping up to the plate and more focused than the Trauma service I work with. Everybody from nurses, doctors, PAs, NPs, PTs, OTs, RTs, CMs, everyone in-between and this chaplain; we work hard and stay focused on what needs to be done to care for everyone admitted to the service.
I have seen way too many people injured this summer, with injuries from head to toe. With those injuries, I’ve seen lives come to a tragic end. Their families are broken in grief and hurting with unanswered questions and it’s heartbreaking. At the same time, I’ve seen incredible life saving moments, too. Being a part of these moments has been heart fulfilling. The emotions are running the gamut this summer. I’ve cried more tears than I care to admit for reasons that I can’t explain; from unwarranted actions, people trying to earn a living, families vacationing, friends having fun, and broken hearts trying to ease their pain. On the grateful side, some of these tears are due to seeing miracles standing before me, literally.
As a chaplain, my faith is challenged when families ask me if I believe in miracles. In the trauma world, they don’t come as often as our faith would like. The severity of injuries can block miracles from happening. When families ask me about miracles as they attempt a Hail Mary of hope, I ask what is the miracle they are looking for. What is the healing you are praying for?
The prayers are not answered, at least not answered in the way we would like. For some, the healing and miracles don’t take place until their life comes to an end. For some, the healing and miracles literally have stood before me as they continue to take steps towards a different life filled with new challenges and hope. Individuals who fought the odds, surgeons who did incredible work and faith beyond human understanding, I’ve seen miracles this summer and they too, brought tears. I can’t answer the “why” questions from families. I can’t explain why this person survived and the other did not. I can’t tell you when somebody will die or when they will be able to go home. I can’t explain why, despite the heroic efforts of surgeons and staff, somebody will not see another birthday. Some days, I can’t even answer the question, “How are you doing?” But what I do know is this, I work with an incredibly gifted group of individuals who sacrifice their hearts and minds to do the unimaginable. We laugh and cry, curse and pray. We get attached as we hope for the best. We fight for them with blood, sweat, heart and tears. I get the honor of working with these people every single day. I get the honor of working for a God who gives me the spirit and the words to get through the most painful and most joyous of circumstances.
We are tired and the summer is only two-thirds over. Am I happy now? Not really. It may have to take a miracle to make that happen. But with these folks, I’m willing to work every day to see it through. With God, I’m willing to sacrifice energy and heartbreak, to do what is needed. And in the autumn, this chaplain and an exhausted group of dedicated people will breathe sighs of relief, filled with humility, exhaustion and honor, knowing we did what was humanly possible and we did it together. I might be exhausted, excited, anxious, angry, overwhelmed, energetic, discouraged, determined, rushed, frustrated or fantastic, but as long as I’m working with them, I will be ok.
And every once in a while, a warm hug does help.