Pastor as Patient: 6 Lessons I Learned from the Other Side of the Hospital Bed

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod

I had a recent battle with my gallbladder. I didn’t mind having it around. It didn’t like the spicy, creamy, fattening things I enjoyed eating. This led me to the ER the week before Christmas. Thankfully, the ER was able to stabilize me so that I could go find my own doctor to remove my gallbladder. After “interviewing” a couple of surgical contenders, I settled on a surgeon and a date. And all I had to do was wait two weeks.

hospitalI watched what I ate during those two weeks of waiting. I didn’t want to have another flare-up. I was anxious, as this would be my first “real” surgery. I had friends who regaled me of their experiences with getting their gallbladders out, all assuring me:

  • “It’s outpatient! You’ll be in and out in no time.”
  • “It’s laprascopic! You’ll hardly notice the scars.”
  • “You’ll be out for a day or two and then back to your old self!”

Alas, I also had two very dear people in my life tell me their horror stories of gallbladder surgeries gone wrong:

  • “Good, fun-living Billy:  when they went to take his gallbladder out, they found he had pancreatic cancer. He was dead in a month.”
  • “Yup, that’s how my father died- routine gallbladder surgery gone bad.”

By the way, friends, that’s not good pastoral care for those going for even the simplest of surgical procedures.  Don’t tell them the worst-case scenarios that you’ve heard!

With a week still away, everything seemed to be going fine until Saturday morning, when I joined my family for brunch. I ate light. Nothing spicy, fried or greasy. And after brunch I went to visit my parents. But while I was there, I began to have significant pain in my entire abdominal area. It scared me. It felt more than just a normal gallbladder attack. What if something was wrong?

I called the on-call surgeon who told me that if I became feverish, nauseated, or if the pain got worse, to head to the ER. As the pain got worse, I had my sister drive me to the ER.

What happened next was a blur of things- pain meds, blood work, an ultrasound, being told I’d be staying overnight; an MRI, a gallstone found stuck in my pancreatic duct, a special surgery to remove it that led to acute pancreatitis, ICU for 4 days, and then FINALLY, on Day 5, my gallbladder was removed!

As a pastor who has had to provide care on the other side of the bed in hospital settings, here are some important lessons I learned from the experience of being a patient:

  1. Knowing there would be times I would be unavailable to communicate, I appointed a loved one to be responsible for communicating on my behalf. She communicated to my pastor and church, my work, and family and friends. She’d let others know if I was receiving visitors, or if I was in surgery, how I was doing. This kept from feeling overwhelmed with texts and calls.
  2. I felt it important to make sure that, as a rostered minister, the synod office knew what was happening. I also contacted my church and asked for prayers, but no visits from members.
  3. If you are a visitor, pay attention. There were times when I was in the mood for visitors, and times when I wasn’t. And when I tried to give signs for the times I wasn’t, they were often ignored. Even if the patient isn’t saying “Please go away,” it’s probably better to only plan to stay for five or ten minutes, unless explicitly requested by the patient.
  4. Make sure you have a Power of Attorney for HealthCare and an Advance Directive. My family has a shared Drobpox folder with each of our information in it to ensure we all have access to these documents for one another. Here is a link  with more information about Advance Directives and Power of Attorney for Louisiana and Texas.
  5. It was great for my pastor to visit. I think I actually cried. Not because of him (yes, I like him), but because he was representing the whole Church of Jesus Christ in those visits. I never expect the pastor or deacon to be the one to visit me, but a visit from church leadership shows care and intentionality. Pastors and deacons, I know we are busy, and that many of us train up others to make regular hospital visits. But do not neglect this sacred ministry yourself!
  6. Nurses make all the difference. I had multiple nurses care for me throughout my stay. Except for one, they were all diligent, responsive, caring, friendly, efficient. Be gentle with your nurses and care assistants, and thank them. They work hard in often stressful situations.