8 to 5. Sort of.

I’m not sure I’m cut out for an 8 to 5 job.  Sure, it’s kind of nice not to bring work home with me, to get home and actually to be done for the day, but I realize that I kind of like being able to set my own hours and pace.  Maybe I do want to work on Saturday mid-afternoon but take a few extra hours on a weekday early morning for a long workout, shower, and coffee.  Of course, I suppose with CPE I do take the job home with me, at least somewhat.  I’m not sure that I will ever forget the conversations about bodily frustrations, loneliness, fear, anxiousness, and unanswered questions.  The images of Carmella and Tom and Eldritch and Whitney and Teresa will forever remain burned into my brain…

 

 

+          +          +

 

The stories and discussions accumulate.  If you don’t let them go right away, they build up so that they become almost suffocating.  You cannot breathe because each new patient simply adds another layer of heaviness onto an already overburdened heart.  And so you hold it all in, all the while struggling to breathe, to stand up straight, to remain composed, to not think about everything, until one moment when you crack.  Your mind starts to wander to a bodily tick or ailment of your own and you wonder if you will become like those people to whom you have listened and with whom you have sat.  You remember that we are all vulnerable.  No one deserves what their bodies sometimes deliver to them.  And you break down into sobs.  Not tears, sobs.  Huge, choking sobs, where you’re gasping for air.  Your face is bright red, your eyes cannot stay open because they are so filled with watery tears, and your nose is full of mucous…but you don’t care because for the first time you can breathe again.  Your chest opens up and your heart tangibly feels lighter.

 

+          +          +

 

Maybe this 8 to 5 job is not the typical 8 to 5 job, then, since I take home memories not of intradepartment relationships and office politics and copier troubles but of death and crying and loss and sickness, but the rhythm in many ways I imagine is the same.  Why does the work day last eight hours?  Is that number some arbitrary quantity that we Americans have set to convince ourselves that we are in fact productive?  How much work really gets done in eight hours, anyway?  How much of the day is productivity and how much is simply working furiously to give the illusion that one is busy, important?  Why do we prefer to spend our downtime at work rather than truly relaxing, taking a siesta or a long leisurely lunch, contemplating the day quietly, or rejuvenating with loved ones?  Must we convince ourselves that we are such prestigious people because we are occupied and needed x numbers of hours every day at the expense of our sanity?

 

+          +          +

 

I don’t do well with sitting still—or at least, the hospital chaplaincy kind of sitting still, where I sit still temporarily, but not I am not really sitting still because I know that at any moment I may be called upon for a need.  Some of the 8 to 5 work I am convinced is simply patience: making oneself available in case another is in need.  Adjusting to others’ timelines rather than my own has frustrated me to no end.  What?  How dare these patients be speaking with their doctors?  They’re out of the room again?  The patients are sleeping still at eleven o’clock in the morning?  I must be at the hospital for eight and a half hours each day for those who need me.  Those hours are not my own, and even if I want to see patients the first half of my day and then write my verbatim for the rest, the patients may not cooperate, or I may receive a page or learn of a code.  Some days are quite busy; I never have much of a chance to sit down before turning to the next need.  Others are stiller, and I find these more challenging.  My anticipation builds for 4.30 to come.  I feel unneeded, unimportant.  Why am I here?  Do I need to be here if I seem not to be wanted?  And what to do with that idle time?  Must I pray, process, write, and turn my work experience into a polished transcript?  May I simply bask in the peacefulness?  Or—dare I say—check email?  What kind of working is that?

 

+          +          +

 

I like “to do” lists.  I like listing things, checking them off, receiving the visible, immediate confirmation.  Chaplaincy work is not conducive to the “to do” list format.  When I try to get in, get to work, and get out, people get in the way.  Sick people, healthy people, sad people, happy people, needy people, “We’re perfectly fine, thank you very much” people.  All of them prevent me from completing the “to do” list in the time frame and manner I want.  Hell, they change the “to do” list altogether, so that my “to do” list has so many scratches and modifications and additions that I no longer recognize it.  When I want to be busy and productive, things are slow.  When I am tired and want to take it easy, the hospital goes haywire.  When I am here bright and early at eight o’clock, the floors usually remain quiet, full of sleeping patients.  I’m here!  Hello!  I feel like saying, but no one would notice.  And when I leave at 4.30, the hospital keeps humming.

 

This is an 8 to 5 job?  You mean it’s not about me?

 

+          +          +

 

I go home.  I cook dinner.  I chop the summer vegetables violently, intensely, yet rhythmically.  As I make the stir fry, I think about Eldritch’s tears and plaid bowler’s cap.  And I get ready for tomorrow.