Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Discovering Trust in a Baltimore Hospital

By Elizabeth Modde, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry 

A Baltimore Graveyard: The irony of our Baltimore benches is a poignant symbol
As a patient advocate, I am immediately drawn to the patients who do not seem to be happy with their care or those who do not understand their care plan. When I found out that one of my favorite patients had refused to get the procedure that his doctor was recommending, I put on my advocacy hat and followed up to see why he had decided on this. The question was over draining fluid off of his lungs with local anesthetic or by putting him to sleep. In his case, the risks were going to be much higher with general anesthesia, but the patient insisted on “being out” for the procedure. With his complicated health history I knew he made his choice with an acute understanding of poor health outcomes and what they meant. What caught me off guard was what he said next. In his slow, belabored but articulated speech, he explained. “See, I look at it this way: I don’t wake up, well then I see God. If I do wake up,” he smiles, “then I see you!”

This perspective caused me to pause. Many of the patients in our West Baltimore neighborhood, have a powerful trust in God. Perhaps this is a product of simply having nothing else, but perhaps it is more complex than this. Maybe there is an awareness and engagement with self and the outside world that only vulnerability can bring. Despite a seemingly low quality of life (at least as many would measure it), I have seen inexplicably high levels of joy in these people. This particular patient has had a rough childhood, questionable support network, unstable and inadequate living environment, and an ongoing struggle with disease. Yet, if there is one thing that impresses me about him, it is his zeal.

When one cannot trust the systems around him or her, trust in God can be one of the powerful tools to help people see the good. Trust in God gives us faith to keep going. It allows patients to keep a positive outlook and sense of peace amidst dire health prognoses that unfairly arise from the social determinants of health. Trust means my co-workers can see their roles as a vocation and can offer up the hard or overwhelming days to God in order to keep finding inspiration in the little moments. Trust allows my neighbors to continue working hard for self improvement in an environment stacked against them. Trust allows me to relinquish my need to fix the world’s problems, giving in to God’s time and God’s guidance.

As Oscar Romero put it, “We are prophets of a future not our own.” The present can be devastating. However, trust brings us peace when there is nowhere else to turn. It enables us to hope again. It transforms us to take right action.

There is another lesson I have noticed about trust this year. Placing trust in God requires the belief that God works with us and will take care of us. If God invests personally in us, then we must be worthy. Faith in God should mean faith in oneself. Trust inspires self-confidence.

Moreover, if God promises to provide for us as a people, then our community must be worthy. Faith in God extends to having faith in our community. It extends to having faith in others. What a change from the shaming messages that external systems and society seem to place on inner city, economically poor, predominantly black groups. Seeing the value and holiness of our community and in the individuals that make it up brings a heightened awareness of human dignity. There is God in each of us and in the place we live. In recognizing this we can do as Jesus did: we can act out of Love and we can act with love.

It is beautiful when I get to see love derived action at the hospital. I see it in a nurse who touches her patient with care and explains her work as inserts an IV. I see it in a nursing assistant who draws a flower on the Styrofoam cup of water she brings to her patients.

Recently, I spent a lot of time with a patient who shook uncontrollably and irregularly. During one of our conversations, she took me over to her window and pointed to a statue of Jesus in the courtyard. We stood there together, holding hands. Soon, our hands clasped, her shaking became my shaking. This is what Life seems to be about for me. Connecting to a greater Love, we intentionally place ourselves in the presence of each other. We find the rhythm we have in common and begin moving in intentional, unpredictable harmony.

Elizabeth is currently volunteering with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry. To find out more about this program, please click here