Albany Medical Center,
it turns out, is enormous. They employ
more than seven thousand people -- that's more than twice the
number of people
who live in Lanesboro. It's a teaching hospital, and it was
constructed over a long period of time, one building glomming on
to another, so there are a dozen different elevators and stairwells, a veritable abecedarium of buildings. It's kind of overwhelming.
Earlier today at Employee Services (U building, sixth floor) I filled out a sheaf of medical forms, and then gritted my teeth in a corner cubicle while the very pleasant RN tried to convince one of my arms to offer up a vein. (She succeeded. Eventually. I felt very stylish walking around the hospital with all of my gauze bandages.) Then came a TB test -- the first of two; I'll have to return next Wednesday for another. (This Friday, and Friday next, I have the option of returning to have the tests read, or convincing my primary care physician to read them. Given the cost of gasoline, and the fact that Albany is a solid hour away by car, something tells me I'll be heading to Williamstown Medical, instead.)
I'd never had a drug test before, and was intrigued by the proces of initialing a dozen different stickers, each meant to show that the vials containing my samples hadn't been tampered with and that they were really and truly mine. Then came a physical, and then a "fit test" (breathing into a mask attached to a chunky blue machine.) And then we started dealing with the paperwork. Volunteering at a hospital takes real advance preparation. I guess it's not something to enter into lightly.
Probably the strangest part was the walk to the security office where badges are made. To get to security, I went down a stairwell, along a long cement hallway lined with empty gurneys, past a man in janitor's garb hosing a stack of blue plastic bins, out a pair of enormous swinging doors, past the people in scrubs smoking cigarettes, through the door marked J. (Definitely a side of the hospital that ordinary visitors don't see.) That I found my way back to the main building once my badge had been made was a minor miracle. Clearly I'm going to need a map.
Throughout I tried to stay out of the way of all the people striding purposefully through the halls. At the end of my visit I stopped by the Pastoral Care office (building C, I think, though it adjoins M, so I'm not sure), where I made sure everything's all set for me to begin the program on Monday. I learned about the dress code, and got the parking pass that now dangles like a blue leaf from my rearview mirror. And then I drove home, listening to Great Big Sea with my windows open, trying to imagine what it will be like to drive home after my first day of actual chaplaincy work, what it will be like to drive home after I spend my first night on-call at the hospital, what it will be like to drive both ways in the dark in the snowy wintertime...
On my way out the door this morning I had the foresight to grab a book, of which I made good use during my waiting-time at the hospital: Kathleen Norris' The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and 'Women's Work'. I've read it before, but it's been a while; I brought it because I suspected it might resonate today (and because, at a very slender five by seven inches, it fits neatly in my purse.) I'm loving the rereading experience, and I intend to review the book here soon, but meanwhile I'll close this post with one of the quotes that leapt out at me today:
We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were.
"Starting where we are" -- I think that's one of my biggest challenges as I begin this pastoral care program. I always want to be there already, to be finished already, to excel already. But I can't magically leap to where I wish I were, or who I wish I were; I can't plan or anticipate my way through the growth experiences that are ahead of me. Here's hoping I can keep Norris' words in mind as this hospital adventure begins.