I had a memorable experience working as a volunteer in a certain government hospital in Cagayan de Oro City. People in the hospital were thinking that I was as parts of the personnel in the dietary department helping the regular staff delivers food for the patients. But my real purpose of being expose there was just to be there- in the midst of ailing and suffering people giving them the opportunity to talk and to unload their burdens. While most of us are evading hurts, suffering, pain here I am, allowing myself to be in touch with the miseries of the world. It’s quite weird, but this is where I found fulfillment, this is where I found my happiness.
|with a nurse at the OPD|
If I were to describe my hospital exposure, it was a month of goose bumps. I was assigned in a government hospital which was quite distant from the seminary. Fear takes over the first time I trudge the unfamiliar road going to that hospital, fearful, having a thought that I do not want to look people who were in the state of suffering and at the same time, conscious that I was incapacitated with the ability to really enter into the pains of others. Yet there is also an element of excitement with the hopeful expectation that it would be helpful for me as a person in formation.
Spending the rest of the day talking and listening to patients and watchers unique stories and on how they struggled for survival, I was gradually learning to go into their real life story. They furnished me with degree of knowledge on how they have been living as ordinary individuals whining in pain because of poverty. They have been deprived of many things yet they could still find meaning to live and to laugh. Such an experience made me realized that those people confined in the hospital were real people, they really show genuine emotions. They laugh with a very simple punch lines yet assertive in demanding for privacy and silence and, at times, cried with a painful acceptance of their state of helplessness. There were no pretentions. No masks to cover their real identity. They engage into conversation openly and never afraid to be judged by others. I got goose bumps knowing their feelings of depression, fear, sadness, loneliness and on how they become immune with the unthinkable pains and struggles in life. These were the dominant feelings of patients as they march the battlefield of life and death inside the hospital yet continues to hunger for God’s mercy. I got goose bumps of how I have been moved by their faith stories of how God as been present amidst human frailty. Being in the face of such crisis, it made me realized that indeed there is strength in vulnerability, that is, we become more real before others and before God in times of helplessness and that the glory of God continues to shine even in human weakness.
Goose bump has become my means to have an emotional memory of what transpired me during the day that gradually imprinted in my heart.
Here are some of those…
I got goose bumps hearing a patient’s request for pray-over, with the hope that he may experience relief from his present state of weakness. The feeling of unworthiness sometimes flourish that hinders me to act appropriately, having in mind that I am not capable of doing such, and at the same time, doubtful of its effect . Yet I was reminded with the phrase “we are not called to be fruitful but to be faithful”, carried with that consolation was a challenge to deepen more my relationship to the God who heals. It’s quite awkward to pray-over a person when you do not spend quality time for prayer.
I got goose bumps looking a pale and a weak body of a nine-month-old baby surrounded by her parents, with the audible sound of moaning from a depressed mother while administering an emergency baptism. I was holding the head of the child as I gently pour the water to her head. I felt how painful it was for the parents but on the other side, I regard it as a moment of grace being able to administer a sacrament, though not complete, and take part in the salvation of an innocent child.
I got goose bumps on one of the ordinary days in the hospital while doing our routine in distributing foods for the patients; I immediately noticed commotion inside the ward. I paused for a while and started to be aware of what had happened. There was adrenaline rush from the medical team. I saw two doctors attending a dying patient. Some nurses surrounding the patient’s bed, one pressing continuously the ambo bag while the other one was trying to administer cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the rest of them were just standing holding some medical paraphernalia. I was just there standing while looking intently towards the patient, few minutes had passed, I noticed the doctors started to remove their plastic gloves and one of them gently approached the lonely family standing at the corner of the ward. They were conversing but I was not able to grasp it. The atmosphere of the ward shifted just for a second, tears started to fall as they stared towards the lifeless body of their loved one. Being one of the eyewitnesses I also felt the sadness and the pain of losing someone so dear. I left the room silently as if someone has left me. I was depressed.
These are one of the many incidents that people are facing everyday and it give me the opportunity to have a glimpse of the various faces and stories of people whom I would be serving in the future. People who have been suffering from various physical pains, some of which seems to be healthy and good yet carries a ‘pathology’ deep within caused by psychological issues. The former is really obvious than the latter yet it would not suggest that one must be given more emphasis than the other. Both calls for mature attention for healing and therefore both must be taken seriously.
One thing that transpired me in the hospital exposure was the remarkable dedication of some doctors and nurses and even medical staff in giving themselves to perform their responsibilities as caregivers. They somehow wanted to create fleshly reality of what Hippocratic Oath is all about and I think this is where I was called for, that is, to allow myself to be in a situation where care as abstract becomes a reality. Priesthood, therefore, is a vocation to care. And it goes beyond physical care for it calls for the care of souls.
Before I started the hospital exposure, I wrote three important things that I need to learn, namely, the ability to wait, attentive listening skills and empathy. To some extent, I think I was doing extra effort to attain this goal. The ability to wait and just standing before the patient doing nothing, waiting for right moment to speak and intervene with the conversation of others. To patiently lend my ears on things that do not matter to me at all yet I chose to hear their cries of suffering, their stories of failures to give them assurance that I am with them to what state they are in. I want them to feel that somebody cared for them not because of blood relationship but because God cares for them. I may not be too expressive with what I feel but I sense that sometimes, I would be overwhelmed with the emotions showed by the patients and even watchers. Gradually, I learn to feel how it was like to be in a situation where I cannot do anything. It truly hurts. But that painful situation leads to the realization of a God who also suffers yet brings a hopeful assurance through His resurrection.
Goose bumps are just nothing but a physiological reaction to a given stimulus but this time it is more than just a reaction but a sign inviting me to realize that priesthood is not just administering sacraments but it is more on wading to the very experience of people under the care of a priest and accompanying them with empathy in moment that they are most vulnerable so that they could still feel and see God’s presence even at the lowest point of their lives. These ordinary goose bumps that I felt in the midst of various situations in life were concrete reminder that when a priest starts to face squarely the mélange of life’s complexity, of which, the subject of his service, then priesthood may be view uniquely and essentially. Priesthood will neither become an opportunity to be grabbed; nor a privilege to be enjoyed but a responsibility to be lived for a lifetime.