Yesterday I was downtown at my future place of employment for a follow-up to my pre-employment physical. Following the follow-up, I returned to the train station where I sat on a bench and patiently waited for the next train home. And as I sat, reading A Primer in Pastoral Care, I heard the young woman seated to my right say into her cell phone, "Tell Steve to call a temp. I’m not coming to work. I passed out on the train this morning and I’m going home." After a few more minutes of small talk, she hung up.
"OK," I think to myself. "I’m going to be a chaplain in a less than two weeks, and here is a wonderful opportunity to provide care and support to someone. Let me give it a whirl."
"I couldn’t help but hear that you passed out on the train. May I get you a pretzel or some juice?"
"No thank you. I got something to drink. Thanks, though."
"That must have been frightening, to pass out on the train."
"Oh gosh, yes. I feel so stupid, but you know, it was just so crowded and I just felt it coming. I tapped the person’s shoulder in front of me, and said, ‘I think I’m going to faint," and then I passed out."
"It’s not stupid at all. That was really smart to alert someone on the train. Good thing you’re safe now."
And so the conversation continued for a few more minutes. I offered typical CPE responses that acknowledged her experience and affirmed her feelings, allowing her to further express her feelings. 8 years away from my last CPE, and about 5 years since my last pastoral role (as a youth worker), I felt pretty good about myself.
Then, a gentleman seated to my left joined the conversation, warning that fainting could be a sign of a brain aneurysm. He told us the story of his sister who had a few fainting spells, and then died a few weeks later. Not quite a comforting story.
His words didn’t seem to have too much affect on the young woman. Nonetheless, instantly I felt bad for not having more control over the situation and allowing someone else to come in and change the tone of the conversation. Yet, I’m not sure what else I could have done. Sometimes, these things just happen.
And with 9 months of chaplaincy ahead of me, I’m sure this is just the beginning . . .