Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paris Trip

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My days are blending together

My days are blending together to the point that I’m not always sure which day of the week it is here. There’s not been a day here yet without and inbound flight, so I’ve come to divide our time into one of two categories: Outbound days and MTD days.

MTD is our abbreviation for Medical Transportation Detachment, or something like that. On these days, in addition to greeting the inbound flights of the day, which generally arrive in the mid morning or mid afternoon, we host the folk who are flying back to the States the following morning. They have been in the hospital at Landstuhl and are healthy enough to spend the night out of the hospital. Sometimes they have minor injuries, maybe a broken arm or leg, sometimes they have minor psychological issues like depression. The docs have cleared them to go home and the hospital wants to open beds and make the next day’s loading go faster. We’ve had as few as few as five one of these nights since I’ve been here, but generally there are closer to twenty or twenty five.
On MTD nights, which start when the bus from the hospital arrives at about 7pm, these patients come into our facility and meet with a nurse and a doctor for one final evaluation. The process usually takes a few hours. I greet them and amid all the information they receive tell them that as a chaplain, I am here to listen to their stories and anxieties if they care to share them with me. I have found this night, and the time I spend with them the following morning, the most productive ministry I’ve ever experienced. Some guys are going home to broken marriages, some to infants they’ve never met, many have seen or experienced such horrible events “downrange” that they just want to talk. I never know what will happen on a given night: I’ve assured snipers they are forgiven. I’ve swapped out a pair of crutches for some more comfortable. I’ve listening to cries of “Where was God when my sergeant was blown up?” I’ve done relationship counseling. I’ve helped people call home to tell a spouse what’s happening to them. I’ve assisted the Red Cross in telling someone her grandmother was in a car accident.
I leave these evenings emotionally exhausted, but with a feeling that I’ve helped some folk make steps closer to health or faith.

I get to sleep in a bit on Outbound days: the day starts traveling one exit on the autobahn so that I can arrive no later than 8am (it’s about a 15 minute drive to work). I’ve already met most of the patients who are flying out that day, though we get at least one more busload about 10am. I offer Holy Communion and anointing for healing; sometimes I get a big group who want to receive, more often only a few. I’m around again to hear stories, I end up spending a lot of this time escorting guys to the smoking area where tongues tend to loosen up a bit more. I have an official “briefing” in the midst of all this that is intended to offer some tools to help them move into their new lives at home.
We load the busses in time to be on the flight line usually by 11am. I continue listening and encouraging and counseling as we load them onto the plane. I’ll help carry patients on a litter, maybe carry a backpack for someone with a bad back. Often an ambulance will arrive from the hospital with critical care patients. Once all the patients are onboard, the crew will begin to close up the plane. I’m often among the last people to walk off the aircraft, climbing down the steps the pilots use because the loading ramp in the back of the plane is already closing up.
Inbound flights can come at any time and we’ve not had a day without at least one. Some come early in the morning, most in the middle of the day. For inbound flights, I get on the aircraft as soon as I can and begin to meet the patients. I welcome them to Germany – some have no idea where they are – and explain to them what the next hour or two of their life will be like. We offload patients onto busses again and they drive the 20 minutes to Landstuhl where they are met by a team of volunteers who help get them off the bus and into wherever they are headed in the hospital. Some go straight to ICU, some walk to the dining hall for a meal. All are met by someone from their branch of service who is assigned to be their liaison through the chaos – paperwork, briefings, signatures, ID cards, new clothes, appointments with specialists – they experience before they are checked into their rooms. I sometimes ride to the hospital with patients, but generally at that point head back to the CASF with the staff.

Of course, often these things happen at the same time. I’ll leave for work in about ten minutes to meet the MTDs for the night. I’ll come home for the first half of my night’s sleep and then turn around to help meet an inbound scheduled to arrive at 2am. After that, I’ll get the second half my night’s sleep and then do the Outbound work. Tomorrow another inbound aircraft will be on the flight line right about the time we are done sending off the Outbounds so we’ll just stay out there to greet them. Since tomorrow is Sunday, I offer a worship service for the CASF staff who are unable to attend the Base Chapel on Sunday because of our schedule. I should be back to my room tomorrow night by 7pm at which point I’ll probably crash in bed so I can be ready to meet a morning inbound on Monday and the MTD patients Monday night.

I’ve returned from the MTD work and discovered that we have additional missions tomorrow. Within fifteen hours, we have five missions. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I’m not alone.
The military has taught me the value of teamwork.
Jerry called tonight. He’s the enlisted Chaplain’s Assistant. We don’t have any backup other than each other when we deploy. We also don’t have any other team to back us up: there are two docs, two pharmacy techs, and four shifts of nurses/medics. But only one chaplain team. And so we haven’t had much as far as days off. I’ve been more faithful to Jerry’s days off than to my own, to be honest: I’ve worked ten days straight now without a day away. Today is Jerry’s day off and I didn’t want to call him to ask him to do the 2am flight, mainly because I wouldn’t want him to do that to me. Nonetheless, he checked in with the CASF tonight, found out about the 2am mission, and then called me offering to do it. Offering. I agreed, and that means I get a full night’s sleep – if I can fall sleep tonight.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Emptying my pockets after work...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My diet in Worms

I know that I should always ask prices before I order, but… we’ll see what this costs me.
I’m sitting in a café, I guess you’d call it, in the Jewish quarter of Worms. I made it to the synagogue as it was closing for an hour, so I’m here for lunch. The owner is offering some kind of eggs and potatoes dish (maybe there’s a reason everyone here suggests Italian food for meals?). I’ve a darker beer than I’ve had so far. Black and white tiled floor, two tone yellow walls, modern paintings on the wall for sale. There’s a kitchen in back, I can’t tell how large, but the seating area has seven tables, probably about 800 square feet. American blues music. There are four of us in here and a woman at a table out front.
Martin Luther’s plaque where he made his stand is in a garden that’s currently being used to stage a play or film a movie, so I can’t get in there.
When the official part of the tour ended, I buggered out, not wasting much time. I have a train ticket that leaves in three hours if I stay with the tour. It’ll cost me e8 to stay longer. The tour is ok, but some of the people drive me nuts – the South Carolinian especially. There’s a guy who started knocking Catholicism for building “huge empty churches” and I just walked out of hearing range. Doesn’t he realize the role this city plays in his ability to be Assemblies of God? And the South Carolinian certainly didn’t appreciate that we were in the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe. There’s so much spiritual history here... They feel a need to compare it with Indiana or wherever they are from. I do that, too, but there’s more I hope I have – an openness to something different. I pray Charis and Bekah will appreciate other places and cultures.
Lunch is here, I’m going to eat.
This is tasty. It will certain fill me up. Two more guys just walked in – both long hair and glasses and beards. The owner has the grey pony tail, but no glasses or beard.
The churches are beautiful. In the first, Magnus Church, there are indications that people worship – posters advertising what I’d like to think is a VBS. There’s a lot of gilt – very bright – but mostly brick walls and pillars. They are dark, but so vast as to not be oppressive. I climbed into what I guess is the pulpit in St Martin’s church – powerful to be able to stand where everyone could see. Despite being so high off the ground, it felt more intimate with the pews than standing in the front by the altar.
The place is filling up – two more arrived. I sure smell like smoke now.
I’m remembering one of the many “cafes” we would stumble across in China. I miss traveling.
Oh: I’m in the “Kunstler Café” on Judengasse (that means “Jewish Street” I think) in Worms.
My plan after lunch: tour the synagogue and possibly the museum there. Then to the train station to see when the trains go home. I do want to see the museum (e2) and then probably back to the Cathedral. Actually, I’ll probably go to the Frederick Church before the museum & cathedral. Frederick Church is a Reformed Church and significantly younger than the other buildings here: 1774.  We Americans are so young.
I’m off to explore.

Entry a bit later: the meal, with the beer which was at least e2, came to e8,20. I was happy with the price.
Jewish museum: by 1945, there were no Jews in Worms. For nearly a 1000 years before that, they had thrived here, enjoying special privileges from the Emperor to maintain their trade. The museum felt strange, like remembering dinosaurs or something: here’s a diorama of a seder meal, ‘here’s what their holidays were,’ ‘here’s a menorah which was important to them,’ ‘here’s a torah scroll; notice the fancy handles.’ The synagogue was a bit better except to note that Jews gather to worship every other week, but there is no Jewish Community in Worms.
Frederick Church isn’t an historical site. Someone let me in and was very nice about it, but gently pointed me toward some more historical churches.
There’s a church erected to support Luther in the shadows of the Cathedral. Turns out that was the one completed in its current form in the late 18th Century, though it dates to Luther’s time. The congregation there started pretty soon after the Diet in 1521 and the entire town at many times was more Protestant than Catholic. I read something about a significant moment in the history when the Lutherans and Calvinists joined up to build the church.
The city museum was a neat stop primarily for the “Luther Room” which holds two Luther Bibles. Pretty cool to be there, though I couldn’t read a thing. After I’d seen that, I paid a bit more attention to the rest of the museum and then actually paid attention to some more of the history: Romans built a town here. I walked some of the same roads that the Romans laid. Not far from the current Cathedral was a Temple to Jupiter.
I took the train home with the tour group rather than pay the extra money. I could spend more time here, especially touring and praying in the churches.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From the Heidelberg Castle

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Greetings from Ramstein, Germany!

I’ve been here for a week now and am able to stop and take a breath, so thought I’d send a note to let y’all know what and how and I’m doing. Many of you have sent emails and I appreciate hearing from you. I’m not often able to reply to messages because I may have just a few minutes to get online. I hope this will catch you up.
I’m the chaplain for what the Air Force calls a Contingency Aerospace Staging Facility, or CASF, at Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany. A CASF is a bit like a holding area for anyone moving into a higher level of medical care. We have resources to care for just about any patient, but not for a long period of time. Most patients we encounter come from Afghanistan or Iraq and have been sent here for the hospital at Landstuhl, an Army base about 20 minutes away. Other patients move from here to the States for more care, which can range from significant burn treatment to physical therapy in a hospital in their hometown. Some patients stay in our facility, but usually not for more than a few days.
The CASF meets each plane with nurses, maybe a doctor, and several EMTs. Some patients on the plane can walk off, others we carry on litters with equipment that looks right out of an Intensive Care Unit in a hospital. As chaplain, I might be the first person they’ve seen in days whose only goal is to listen to them and be present without an agenda.
Outbound planes carry all kinds of patients. Most patients that are able to walk come from the hospital to the CASF the night before outbound flights. I have the opportunity on days of outbound flights to once again be present with patients. I offer communion and try to prepare them for resources and some of what they will face returning to the states. (For example, for outbounds this week, we’re suggesting they be purposeful about how they celebrate the Fourth: some of the skills that will keep them alive in a war zone might lead to an awkward moment in a town park’s fireworks show.)
I have brief contact with patients on inbound flights but I’ve been surprised at how much pastoral care I can provide in that time. On outbound days, I get more time with patients and by letting them talk have heard all kinds of stories of what they have faced. Some of these stories humble me to in the presence of such a fine human being, some of these stories make me cringe, some lead me to cry with someone, some make me, too, question where God is. War is brutal and ugly. The men and women we ask to conduct our wars are never the same.
The staff here is amazing. They have volunteered to be here and feel tremendous pride in their work, which they do very well. There are about a 100 people who work here, around a quarter of them are stationed here and this is their job for three years. Those in the permanent party end up doing a lot of admin and oversight. Most of the direct care is provided by the people, like me, who are here temporarily. Some come for as short as two weeks, most are here for four months. There are four rotating shifts, but some positions only have two shifts so they take turns being on call. I’m the only chaplain, but I have an enlisted “Chaplain Assistant” with me. We’ve split up the job so that we are seldom together and therefore able to multiply our resources. For example, I slept in this morning and Jerry handled the inbound mission. Because we’re on call so much, I won’t have much of a chance to travel a lot in Europe. I plan to make some day trips here and there as I’m able.
I’m living at Vogelweh, a former base that is now nearly exclusively housing for folk who commute to Ramstein. Because I’m not at Ramstein, where the CASF is, I have a rental car and get to drive a bit on the Autobahn to work every day. (That sounds more exotic than it is.) I’m living in what is best called a hotel suite, a couple rooms with a microwave and tiny refrigerator. I happen to be in a quiet part of the base, with my back windows looking into a forest, on the other side of the woods is an elementary school for families working here. It’s raining today, the first since we arrived. The weather is much like New York, but feels hotter here since we are often out on the flight line where the sun can beat down pretty hard and since none of the buildings I work or live in have air conditioning.
For the rest of this morning, I’m going to explore a bit more to get my bearings. We’ve been working hard since we arrived – generally two missions a day, plus I’m still absorbing and processing everything from the previous chaplain who stayed on to get us trained up.
Peace be with y’all. Have a great Independence Day and please take time to pray for the physical, mental and spiritual health of the men and women we have sent into harm’s way.