Friday, February 06, 2009

On Call

One of the duties of being a parish priest in my present parish, and the last, was to take a turn with the hospital `bleep` for night calls to give the regular chaplain a break. Well that`s the simple explanation of what we do except that towards the end of my time in Gateshead the shortage of priests meant there was no longer a curate in the deanery who had the job of hospital chaplain and so a permanent deacon was employed which meant that when a priest`s turn for the bleep came he was on call 24 hours a day for that week. As things turned out we took turns every six or so weeks. This was sometimes difficult to combine with my work in Newcastle on the diocesan tribunal where I would sometimes sit down to interview a petitioner or possibly angry respondent only to get a call to go to the hospital. However I moved across the Tyne and into the larger set-up of Newcastle. While there are three major hospitals to cover we are fortunate in that there is a full-time priest chaplain and with there being more parishes, the turn only comes around every six months. We are only on duty from 8pm-8am although we also do all-day Tuesday and Wednesdays to give the hard-working chaplain a break.
This week I have the bleep. It has been a busy week so far. Last night it went off at 1.15 am (as it had two nights previously). I was so glad that we haven`t had the snow the other parts of the country have had as that would make things more difficult. Off I went to an intensive care ward not knowing what exactly I would find. There was a young man of about 20 years of age with his parents by the bed-side. He was dying of cancer and was not expected to survive until morning. The family are from about 30 miles from the hospital. So I gave absolution and the plenary indulgence for the moment of death and did the anointings of the sacrament of the sick. The whole thing was intensely moving.
I came back on duty at 8pm tonight and as the pips for the 8 o`clock news went on the radio, the bleep went off again. This time it was for the delivery unit of the maternity ward. When I got there I found a twenty-two week baby who had died in the womb. I once had been called out to baptise a baby of that age. He was taken out of the fridge in a little tray made to look like a bed, a tiny but perfectly-formed child. Again this was a very moving experience. The parents weren`t there but I said prayers and blessed him. I also said a prayer for those who think it is ok to tear apart such a child in the womb that their eyes may one day be opened.
So not long until Sunday before I hand over the bleep. While these last two experiences have been powerful, I`m hoping I get a full-night`s sleep tonight!

7 comments:

Giorgio Roversi said...

Thanks for this moving post. Thanks for reminding us what it means being a priest, since too often we see him as a social worker or a community organiser. Once Padre Pio, when he was prevented by the Holy Office from hearing confessions and saying Mass, said: "How can it be? These are the only things I can do!". Indeed: the most precious things on earth.

old believer said...

Yes, very moving and very sad about the baby. A very interesting insight.

Anonymous said...

How very moving, humbling and sad. I am praying for both sets of parents.

madame evangelista said...

As the others have said, a very moving post Father.

But I do hope you get your much-deserved good night's sleep.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thank you. It was all quiet last night. Just tonight to go now.

Anonymous said...

Years ago my wife miscarried. Although there was a lot of support from the various hospital services, it was the attention of the local priest that helped us through that time. Do remember Father that though you may only spend small amounts of time with those you attend, and may not hear of them again, they will remember you and thank you in their hearts for many years. Sleep well and God bless.

gemoftheocean said...

Agree totally with Giorgi. It has to be a singularly sweet and sometimes bitter-sweet blessing for the priest to be with people in their most precious and intimate moments of their life and death. When you think of it, a priest is (or should!) be there for the most important times of your life.