Some chaplain days have no space. The pager calls you to the emergency department three times in fifteen minutes. The pager calls you to three deaths in three hours. The pager calls you to two patient rooms for conversations in the same fifteen minutes and the same three hours.
On those days, I’m learning about emotional triage.
Triage is what happens in the waiting area outside the Emergency Department. People arrive with needs. All are serious enough to cause someone to come to the hospital, but not all are equally risky to the health of those who arrive.
Inside the doors of the Emergency Department are beds and staff to start treating those needs, but not enough to treat everyone simultaneously.
And what most people in the triage area don’t see is the other doors. Some lead to the rest of the hospital, where people with serious needs are sent. Another brings people in ambulances, with needs that are usually more life-threatening than the needs that walk in.
The nurse at the triage desk has to listen to the people who arrive, discern the life-threat of the situation, and send people back to the waiting beds and staff in an orderly and ordered manner.
First come is not first served. Although a heart-attack and a sprained ankle may have comparable pain, they do not have comparable life-threat. An upset stomach may be more vocal than a stroke, but may have to wait longer.
On really hectic days I’m learning to stop and evaluate the demands in front of me. I cannot arrive at all pages simultaneously and I cannot handle the emotional impact of each simultaneously, so I do triage. What must happen now, what can wait ten minutes, what can wait two hours? What can be handled with a phone call, with a text, with a short visit, with a long presence.
Today your life, your work, your family, your heart may be fully ordered. You may not need to think about intentionally stopping and sorting through the emotional burdens.
But sometime you may.