Spirituality on the Go Train
On Monday morning, I walked into my office and found a cover letter and article addressed to me from a long-time dear acquaintance and client, Rev. Maureen (“Moe”) Anderson. Moe’s letter captivated me – she describes her role as a Spiritual Caregiver and how she recently had the experience of saving a man’s life on the Go Train. With Moe’s consent, I have posted her letter to me and her fascinating article ‘Spirituality on the Go Train’ – I will let them speak for themselves.
Canadian Association for Spiritual Care / Associationcanadienne de soins spirituels
June 4, 2016
I hope that this letter finds you well!
As you know, I’m always crazy busy and into a variety of projects. I’m writing to you in my capacity as Co-chair for the National Convention of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care to be held at Deerhurst Resort in April of 2018.
The Canadian Association for Spiritual Care is a National multi-faith organization committed to the professional education, certification, and support of people involved in spiritual care, counselling, education, and research. We provide education programs for people who are preparing to become professional providers of Spiritual Care in a variety of institutional and community settings.
I agreed to co-chair this committee because I know that this annual convention is a lifeline for the people who work across the country, many of whom work as the sole person in their institutions facing traumatic situations every day. I am one of the lucky ones. While I attend to several deaths a day and many distraught family members, I have a team of spiritual care professionals at the University Health Network. The vast majority of my colleagues do not have that kind of support within their workplaces and so it is my passion to try and make this convention as accessible as I can by soliciting support from generous community donors.
Rev. Moe Anderson Spiritual Care Professional Co-Chair
Canadian Association for Spiritual Care National Conference
P.S. I thought that you might enjoy reading one of my blogs where I helped save a man’s life!
Spirituality on the Go Train
You would think that someone from Spiritual Care would not have trouble answering the questions, “How do you work spiritually at work?” when the Wellness Coordinator asks, however, I was stumped until the Friday night GO train ride home.
For those of you that regularly ride the GO train, you know that it is a bit of a strange environment. You can ride with the same people for many years and never actually meet them. At the end of the day, the cultural norm on the top deck of the train is quiet and silence but the alarm went for “Code 1033,” the code for a medical emergency and this time the emergency was in my car. I went down to investigate and a man had collapsed on the floor, not breathing, rapidly turning blue. Someone had started CPR and I took over compression as she tired. Others arrived as well. I heard the GO train personnel inquire who everyone was and it turns out we had someone from palliative care, someone who delivers babies, a dermatologist and me, a spiritual care provider.
I thought of all those family meetings where it was unknown what time the patient collapsed and how long he had been down for, so I looked at my watch. The time was 4:23. A minute into compressions and I was tiring already. How did I not know how tiring CPR was? I had watched the ICU team do CPR for hours, switching off every few minutes, never realizing how hard the work was and being reminded in the moment how important teamwork is. We began to switch off between trying to find a pulse and doing chest compressions. He was turning that awful colour between life and death. Someone found a defibrillator and the baby doctor prepared to deliver a shock as she ripped open his shirt at 4:26. We heard her say “clear” and then he jumped underneath us. I heard the palliative doctor ask someone to find his name in his wallet and she began to talk to the patient. Talking to a dying patient is usually my job, but today, I heard someone else giving the spiritual care while we continued chest compressions stopping periodically so the palliative doctor could see if his heart was beating. Suddenly he began to breathe. A cheer went up and we turned him on his side but the victory was only short lived. He stopped breathing again and we rolled him back to continue CPR. At 4:29 we gave him a second shock. In that second moment when we called “clear,” I looked up and I saw the faces of the people that I normally speak to- scared, overwhelmed by what they were seeing, panicked but I couldn’t provide the spiritual care it was someone else’s job to offer comfort and support. I placed my hands on his chest taking my turn at compressions from the dermatologist and this time I felt his heart punch back at my hands and beat to life again, like when I was pregnant and I felt the baby kick from within. It was like his soul was letting me know he was still there. The doctors confirmed he had pulses, stronger pulses this time. Rolling him onto his side again it was 4:34. His colour returned, his eyes fluttered open. Oxygen arrived from somewhere and paramedics arrived on scene just as he was waking up. There was a sense of exhilaration that together we had saved this man’s life- the woman who went running through the train looking for doctors and found the strange collection of people to help, the person who donated her scissors to cut open his shirt, those of us that pounded on his chest and shouted in his ear to keep breathing, those that held elevators and doorways, went running for the defibrillator or just silently prayed- together- a crazy team that journeyed together differently today.
As I reflected on the events, I realized that in many ways the hospital is a strange collection of strangers, a collection of people journeying together, never knowing what the day will bring.
I realized that being in rounds and family meetings had made me the accidental student as I heard over and over again what made the difference at the beginning of a cardiac arrest to the final outcome. We must all be accidental students in our journey together, always learning from one another. Today, I reflected on all the people that I watch day in and day out using their hands to work to save a patient. How differently it felt to put my hands on a patient for medical treatment than to hold a hand to comfort. How lost for words I am to describe the feeling of seeing another human being shocked and pounded back to life and to have been a small part of that.
Today as we journey together, I’m reminded once again of the precious commodity of time that is given to each one of us to make each moment count. After he was taken away by EMS a woman, in tears, explained, that the man collapsed after seeing her struggling up the stairs with her suitcase feeling panicked at being caught in rush hour. Seeing her struggle, he carried her suitcase up to the platform. She worried that the act of kindness may have cost him his life- perhaps it saved him because it put him in just the right place. I am more deeply aware that we are strange strangers on a journey but we don’t have to be estranged from one another, especially in crisis.
So today as I think about what Monday will bring I hope that I can live in deeper spiritual appreciation and with deeper reverence and awe for all those who place their hands on their fellow sojourners in care. I hope that I can live with heightened awareness and hope for the strangers and companions that are all around. I hope that I can see with more compassion the struggles that each person carries in their work. In the end, to work spiritually is to remember that we journey together.
In the end, to work spiritually is to remember that we journey together.
Burlington, Hamilton, Milton, Mississauga, Guelph