Recently, I have had a couple of visits in hospital where the patient has MRSA. It’s quite scary, really. When I first approach the nurse to ask if I can see the individual, they look at me, take the big breath, and say, ‘He/she has MRSA.’ Then we both have a big sigh. It’s highly contagious and can run rampant in the NHS hospitals. It can be deadly, too, and they want you to take a lot of precautions, especially if you have young children. I feel like I am going to encounter ‘The Plague’.
So, after the nurse feels that he or she has sufficiently frightened me with the precautions, I am then armed with the necessary equipment. Hearing about the disease, I fully expect to enter the room with a radiation suit with the patient in a plastic bubble. What I get is a plastic penny (apron) and gloves. Then, I am told to wash my hands thoroughly when I exit the room. The nurse then walks off, evidently having done all she or he can to guard me against all risks. I feel as fully protected as if I was armed with a rubbish bin lid and a fruit knife against an armoured tank division. At one visit, I was so nervous, I couldn’t operate the penny and finally had to humbly find another nurse to show me how to untangle the penny and wrap it around me.
The key to a pastoral visit is to be present with the person. That I learned on my first day at Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Now, the problem is that all that’s running through my mind is, ‘How is this plastic penny thing going to protect me when it doesn’t cover 60% of my body?’ Then, while I am trying to listen to the other person, I am formulating a plan for when I get home to avoid my daughter, tear off my clothes, burn them, and take a shower.
Being a pastor can be a dangerous job.