Reflective writing is an important part of my spiritual practice and my wellbeing as a healthcare professional. I’m grateful for recent collaborations with The Human Touch, a literary journal for the Anschutz Medical Campus at the University of Colorado, as well as Z Publishing House. This piece was originally published in a 2018 poetry anthology from Z Publishing. I hope it sheds light on the frequent role of accompaniment in a chaplain’s care for patients and families. The third section, in particular, emerged from a difficult case that highlighted the best of interdisciplinary teamwork.
A Study of Hands
In my Baptist faith tradition
the call of a minister is confirmed by the
Laying on of Hands.
A patient takes my hands
in fear and prayer:
“Be my chaplain,”
the weight conveys.
Sometimes words are not enough and
too much at the same time
and my role spills over into touch.
The wife of a patient makes it clear
that her greatest need
is to be in physical proximity
to other beating hearts,
as if collectively we could will
her husband’s to beat again.
When we hold hands that first morning
and bend our heads together,
I notice her shimmering gold manicure.
On the day she decides it is time
to release her hope for a mended heart,
I am still close enough to see
how far her nails have grown.
The neurosurgeon waits for the priest.
They are bound together in their care
for a patient who will not survive the night.
One relieves intracranial pressure,
the other salves with oil.
Then both put a hand on the shoulder
of a disbelieving spouse.
Her hands, meanwhile, are occupied—
both clenching my hand and rubbing
the pendant of Mother Mary jammed between us.
The edge of the metal cuts, then throbs,
then sinks from my hand into my heart,
reminding me of the pain she will feel
long after the release of our grip.
Revelle, Rachel. “A Study of Hands.” America’s Emerging Poets 2018: West Region. Z Publishing, 2018. 44.