Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Importunate Ixora

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. Luke 18:1 NLT
It finally got to me. The little miniature ixora had been tossed aside with no regard as to whether it would live or die. I didn’t care if it died. Five years ago it had been planted with much care in the center planter on the far side of the pool. It was the choice spot. It was the spot that drew the eye as one looked out from the kitchen window to gaze into the back yard, a semi-circular planter in the center on the far side of the screened enclosure. There are two other planters, one in each corner of the far side, but the center spot is the prime location. The ixora, along with three others, accented the hibiscus that grew larger and taller in the middle, two of them on each side of it.  
Each year I looked forward to some growth and to the tiny, yellow flowers they produced. Each year was a disappointment. They did not grow and produced few flowers.  I gave up on them. I replaced them with some deep blue phlox that, I must say, looked absolutely stunning from the kitchen window in the light of the morning sun.
With nary a thought, the ixoras were shoved into a used pot, thrown aside and left for dead by the fence. All of them died, but one. It wouldn’t. Shaded by the oaks overhanging the fence from the neighbor’s yard and clinging to the bit of soil that had not been shaken off when all four of them were uprooted, it refused to die. Every now and then, as I regularly mowed the grass, I would notice it, mildly surprised at its tenacity. Months went by. It lived. Through the spring and the last gasp of summer, it lived.

Finally, two weeks ago, I took pity on it and replanted it in the front yard in the bed that is in front of my office window. I have not watered it. With the constant rains of the last month, I have not needed to. There it has thrived. Last Sunday afternoon, I took notice of the new, green leaves that have begun to sprout and smiled.

Blessings to you all,

(All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Parrish Medical Center.)





Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Dark and Stormy Night

 “It was a dark and stormy night” is the introductory line from a novel written by Victorian author Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton.  It is now widely regarded as the epitome of the worst way to begin a novel or short story. But it really was a dark and stormy night before my first day at Parrish Medical Center.

I had finished my five and a half year tenure at Cape Canaveral Hospital on Thursday, September 2nd as the hospital evacuated in advance of Frances, the second hurricane of the season. At Parrish Medical Center, the hospital was preparing as well and the staff hunkered down to ride out the storm, locked in for the duration. Frances would prove to be a slow mover and the lockdown a long one.

September 6, 2004, my wife and I were shopping for a few things at CVS on the corner Wickham Road and Parkway in Melbourne, FL. Hurricane Frances, had just passed, leaving most of the area without power and some of the area devastated by the damage. A tornado, spawned by the storm, had swept through Wickham Park, destroying a quarter of a large apartment complex next to our neighborhood. We were spared any significant damage, but like most everyone else, we had no power. CVS had power and AC! We were taking our time looking around, cooling off, getting a few things we needed, and again my phone rang.

“Hi, Jerald. This is Roberta Chaildin from Parrish. Listen, we have been on lockdown because of the hurricane for 92 hours and the strain is showing. I know you’re not supposed to start until tomorrow, but could you come in today?”

I arrived early afternoon, dressed in khakis and a polo shirt that had the Association of Professional Chaplains logo on it. I chose it because the word “Chaplains”was easily readable on it, and since most everyone I would meet that day would have no idea who I was.

There wasn’t a whole lot I could do, other than “Presence Ministry.” There was no way to fix the stress felt by 90+ hours of lockdown or the stress of not knowing the condition of their homes or the stress of a second blow on top of the one two-weeks prior that had already left the area covered in blue tarps.

Ten years have passed and I’m still convinced that presence, “being consciously and compassionately in the present moment,” (Miller, The Art of Being a Healing Presence, p 12) is one of the most powerful things we can bring to our work with patients, their families and just as importantly, to each other.

All opinions expressed herein are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Parrish Medical Center.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Time Flies

Sept. 15, 2014

Ten years is a long time. And yet what happened ten years ago can seem like it happened yesterday. Having just celebrated ten years here at Parrish Medical Center, I have been remembering and reflecting on how it began and what has happened since.

It all started with a phone call. I was sitting in my office in a portable building on the backside of Cape Canaveral Hospital one sunny afternoon in June of 2004. On the phone was the familiar voice of a friend, who was also my former boss, Laurie Smirl. The conversation quickly shifted from pleasantries to serious business. “Parrish Medical Center is looking for a chaplain and I told them they needed to talk to you. Would you be interested?” I thought briefly about a line from the book I had just read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” about how I was in business whether I knew it or not and that my business was me. The point being that I needed to “mind my business” in such a way that the investment of “me” was also good for me. Those of you who know me know that I tend to play it kind of safe and since I had a very good position already at Cape Canaveral Hospital, that quote was just the push I needed to consider another opportunity.

Shortly thereafter, I had a day filled with interviews at PMC that left me mentally exhausted, and hopeful. I had been quite impressed with the people I had met, the beautiful facility, the vision of the organization and how they thought my role could complement their mission of “healing experiences for everyone, all the time.” Leaving a safe, good position felt risky to me, and it was in many respects, but I have never regretted it. What is the quote? “No risk, no reward.” Indeed.

I will have some additional reflections on these ten years in future Glimmers.

Blessing to you all!


All opinions expressed herein are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Parrish Medical Center.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Things We Forget

I remember the first time I saw a naso-gastric tube. A friend from the church I used to attend when I lived in Tallahassee, FL was hospitalized in Atlanta. I walked in and greeted him and was happy to see that he was smiling and in good spirits. We talked for a while and caught up on the events  in our respective lives, but the whole time, I kept looking at the tube coming from his nose. To be honest, I had no idea what it was for, but looking at the tube and the greenish-brown liquid flowing through it made my stomach a bit queasy.

I no longer get queasy about much of anything I see in hospitals. Years of working in healthcare will do that for you. But I was reminded of that long-forgotten feeling this week by a couple of events. One was personal. The other was the lived experience of a patient I met.

My story, as previously shared on Facebook, went like this:

I was doing my manly duty, mowing the yard and suddenly it was as if a BLOW TORCH was lighting up the inside of my right leg, about six inches above my ankle. I proceeded to hop and holler and flail at whatever beast had attached itself to my flesh. What was it? A one inch-long, yellow and black DEMON STRAIGHT FROM THE PIT OF HELL monster of a YELLOW JACKET, pumping its VILE POISON into my burning appendage.

It has been 40 or more years since I have been stung by one and now, an hour and a half and a shower later, it still feels like a HOT POKER is being stuck to my leg! SO, to all my friends whose job it is to stick sharp objects into human flesh, when next my time comes and you say, "Ok, a little bee sting," I WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

Our patient's story went like this; He was brought into the hospital for one ailment and the physician's examination revealed something more serious yet that earned him a hospital stay and more diagnostic tests. Soon, he was surrounded by a group of strangers doing whatever it is that that do. Having never been in the hospital in his 60+ years from birth until that day, he was not at all sure what they did. As he told the story of being gifted with a urinary catheter, his eyes grew wide and his voice became more passionate. They tried to reassure him that he shouldn't be embarrassed; after all, they had done this hundreds of times before. To which he said, "Well, I have never had this done before and I have never had 9 people looking at me naked before because I HAD NEVER BEEN IN A HOSPITAL BEFORE!

In every line of work, we become accustomed to the language and activities of our craft. That is normal. In the hospital, we get used to blood, needles, IV poles, dialysis machines, heart monitors and naso-gastric tubes. It is easy to forget what bee stings are really like and easy to forget that our patients may not share our level of comfort with our environment. It took a yellow jacket to remind me of that. It is not a memory aide that I would recommend!

Happy Hospital Week!


Friday, April 11, 2014

A Lenten Apology


April 11, 2014

“Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of our lives, we catch glimmers of at least what the saints are blinded by…” (Frederick Buechner, Listening To Your Life, p. 169

In younger days, I often made fun of Lent. “Lent? You mean that fuzz that gets trapped in your belly button?” All in good fun and all from the vantage point of an outsider.

Lent- the season that spans the Christian calendar from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, is not observed in many evangelical churches, including the one to which I belong. There are several reasons for this, historical and theological, that I won’t go into here. All that is to say, that Lent has always been strange to me- strange in the sense of eating mussels, raw oysters or bungie jumping. I just didn’t get it. I had never tried them either and was pretty sure I wouldn’t like them if I did.

 Ash Wednesday begins with the imposition of ashes-burned remains of the prior year’s palm fronds from Palm Sunday. “Remember O man that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return,” is recited as the ashes are spread on the forehead in a cross-shaped marking. Churches remove bright decorations for the season and hymn selections reflect a somber, sober  tone. “What a downer!” I used to think.

Over the years, I have gained many friends and colleagues from these more liturgical groups and, gradually, my understanding of Lent has deepened. I have come to appreciate the emotional movement of somber reflection of these forty-plus days that contemplates the suffering and passion of Jesus and explodes with joy on Easter Sunday. And I have also come to appreciate the practice of “giving something up for Lent.” I did it for the first time this year.

Giving up something for Lent is a way of participating in Christ’s suffering. I used to ridicule the practice, scoffing, “how can giving up chocolate for a few weeks possibly imitate the brutality of that?” Well, it can’t, and it isn’t meant to. It is meant to stir reflection.

So this year, I decided to give it a try. Now, I’m not going to tell you what I offered up, but suffice it to say it was no big thing. It was simply something I enjoy, nothing immoral or even fattening for that matter, just enjoyable to me. I can’t tell you how many times I have been tempted to enjoy what I had given up and how badly I have wanted it. I want it so badly because it is off-limits! Delayed, deferred until Easter! But I want it NOW! This “no big thing” became a big thing by my telling myself I couldn’t have it. And it has been much more difficult than I ever expected.

So, to all my friends observing Lent in the true spirit of the season, you have my new-found respect and humble apology.



Friday, April 4, 2014

A Failure to Communicate

April 4, 2014
Each month I have the honor of presenting to new care partners at our hospital’s general orientation. My topic is teamwork, and in it I talk a great deal about communication. One of the primary messages is that teamwork and communication are more complicated than they may at first appear. In recent days, I have had three instances where it was assumed communication was clear, but clearly it wasn’t.
My wife and I have the same hair stylist. At my appointment a few weeks ago, Katie asked how my wife liked her new hair style. She had let her hair grow for months to be able to have it cut shoulder-length with it being a bit longer in the front than in the back.  I responded that she didn’t like it and that she wanted it cut so that the length was the same in front and back. When my wife next went to the stylist, Katie asked, “Why do you want to get it all cut off after you went to all that effort to get it to grow out?” “Who told you that?” “That’s what Jerald said when he was here,” she said. “No, I don’t want to cut it short again, I just want the back the same length as the front.” “Oh!” she said. “I must have misunderstood.”
Last year, I attended the Boy Scout’s Golden Eagle award dinner. It is an annual fundraiser to support Boy Scouts Central Florida Council. This year, I asked my wife if she’d like to go with me. She was unsure at first, but finally agreed. The fact that it was on her birthday only added to her reluctance. “On my birthday!???” On the day of the event, I went online to double check the proper attire for the evening. Business attire. I told my wife and she said she had that black pantsuit with the orange jacket. “Perfect,” I said. “But won’t I get cold?” she asked. “It isn’t very warm.” “Why would you be cold?” I replied. It turns out she thought that because it was a Boy Scout dinner and Boy Scouts are all about camping and outdoor activities, the dinner would be hot dogs and hamburgers at some outdoors location! I laughed and told her that it was a nice, sit down, indoors awards dinner.” “Oh,” she said. Again, I thought I had communicated. I had been there before and knew exactly what to expect, and I thought she did too. All the while, when we talked about it, we both had very different word pictures of what we were talking about.
This past week, I came across a far more serious example of the problems associated with inadequate communication. A gentleman who was a patient I met in the course of my hospital work told his story. He said he had not been in the hospital since the days just after he was born. He has had very little exposure to the medical profession. “I never get sick and I never go to the doctor,” he said. Suffering from shortness of breath at home and feeling quite frightened by it, he called 911. By the time they arrived he was in severe respiratory distress. He said, “They asked me if I had CODZ or something.” “I said, ‘why are you asking me questions, I can’t breathe!'” “Then they put this mask on my face and I thought they were going to smother me.”
At the hospital emergency department, the ER physician suspected congestive heart failure, CHF, and consulted a cardiologist. After the cardiologist saw him, he admitted him to the hospital. The next day, a different cardiologist from the same practice came in to see him and introduced himself as his cardiologist. “I told him he was not my cardiologist and I want to see the doctor who admitted me!” “This is my heart we are talking about. I don’t want no substitute! I want MY cardiologist!” “I didn’t understand,” he said. “Nobody told me why they were putting that mask on my face and nobody told me a different doctor would be following me in the hospital.” “I guess they thought I knew that’s how things worked.” “Well, I didn’t.” Now he says he understands and is sorry that he put the EMS folk and the cardiologist office through such a hard time.
I’ll conclude with the quote I use at hospital orientation…
“I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you are aware that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Communication. It ain’t as easy as it looks.
Blessings to all of you,
All opinions expressed herein are solely my own and do not necessarily represent those of Parrish Medical Center.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Less words, more cheesecake

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” I John 4:7-8

John was writing to a decidedly Christian audience and it is important to realize that so that he is not misunderstood. He is not saying love is the same thing as God or that doing something loving is the same as being Christian. God and faith are much more complex than that. But he is saying that they go together. Just as faith without works is dead, faith without love is dead too. To say you love God and not act in loving ways toward others is to live a lie.

A few years ago, Gary Chapman wrote a book titled Love is a Verb. It is a heartwarming collection of stories about how choosing to show love can have a powerful impact on people. I think it is something we know, most of us anyway, but in practice it is so easy to forget.

Grammatically speaking, love can be a noun, a verb, a gerund, a direct or indirect object, but I think Chapman is on to something when he says love is a verb. When someone does something loving, something powerful happens. Mere words are powerless.

Annette Fussell understood this. Annette was the mother of Deena Ellis, our Manager of Security at Parrish Medical Center. She showed love in many ways to her family and friends as they readily testify, but her love reached far beyond her family. She was especially known for loving to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the men and women of the local Fire Department.  For years, every Thanksgiving Day, a parade of units would swing by her house throughout the day to have love served up by the plate full.

At her memorial service last week, the Fire Department sent a four-person honor guard to acknowledge the impact of her life on them. Many other firemen came to pay their respects as well. I told them that when they saw her in the kitchen all covered in flour dust, they were seeing God in a very clever disguise.

When she came across a new cheesecake recipe, and she was always looking for new recipes so this happened with regularity, she’d bake it and send it with Deena to share with the security department team. It was never really about getting their opinion of the new recipe. She loved doing it and loved hearing about the smiles on the faces of “her boys and girls” as they gobbled it up.

There is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that says, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” He probably didn’t say it, but he gets the credit anyway. And when it comes to preaching, it is necessary to use words, of course, but it is much more effective if it isn’t only words. So even if he never said it, it makes sense to me. Without loving deeds, loving words are "sounding brass and tinkling cymbals."

So, yes we need to say “I love you” and yes we need to use words to tell people about God’s love, too.  But we can learn a thing or two from Annette Fussell. For love to really hit home, sometimes what we need is less words and more cheesecake.

Happy Valentines Day!

All opinions posted here are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Parrish Medical Center.