The process for responding when paged for a trauma

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, a chaplain works hard to stay alert. You don’t count sheep. Or blessings. You review. How much of how many procedures can I remember at once?


The process for responding when paged for a trauma.

Go. As fast as you can. As directly as you can. Pausing only if you are with a family walking through a death. And even then, tell someone.

Show up. Look for fragile treasure holders, the people who are carrying hopes and dreams and memories and are afraid of what will happen to them.

  • Which could be the patient.
  • Or the spouse.
  • Or the parents.
  • Or the family and friends.
  • Or the EMTs who saw the scene and the hopelessness and now see the shiny hospital suite and help.
  • Or everyone else in the room as they are struggling to make a pulse show up.

You can recognize them by the shaking knees, the trembling hands, the tears, the fear, the anxious anger. Listen for “What are they doing in there?” or “This wasn’t what we were going to do tonight.”

Look for names. For the name of the patient, for the name of the family, for the names of the coworkers around you. Learn them. One new name every time you gather here. Every time. Be the outgoing one. Because every interaction builds the connection you need for the next time.

Call someone who isn’t there. A family member at home who has no idea where this brother is. The spouse who is on the road, miles behind the helicopter.

But treat this call as a life-or-death moment of communication for the person on the other end. The peace or fear you offer can shape the next few minutes of that person’s life.

As you are preparing for the call, research what to say and what to be silent about. Know the facts from the people providing care. Practice what to say, so you aren’t struggling for the words at the beginning of the call. And then say it: “This is Jon. I’m a support staff member.” Because no one will ever hear your words if you start with “I’m a chaplain.”

Look for belongings, for valuables, for things that need to be locked up. Put on gloves because of the blood. Pick up even the clothing that was cut off, especially when you are getting it for a mom. Then, do the inventory as dispassionately as possible, knowing that the credit card has greater cash value, but the photo is priceless.

Offer to pray, if that seems appropriate. But pray anyway, in your heart.

Stop by later. When the moment of crisis has passed, and the plan of care has started, and the room is almost empty, stop by. Because of the person at the center of a web of electronic leads, plastic tubes, wispy prayers, and fragile hopes. Because of the person sitting in the chair by the bed, wondering.


I’ve tried to create checklists for my work, but they never work. Because there is a poetry about our work, a liturgy of the chaplaincy. You practice it until it works its way into your soul and speech. And then you love it out.


Before You Walk In Copyright © 2021 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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