The Value of Being "Kicked Out"

A patient is being assertive where perhaps they cannot be in any other moment of their life . . . the fact that they have gumption left to kick us out is great, that gives them charge and ownership.
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

While many of the stories included in this project focus on a chaplain's success with patients, Reverend Ken Burg, a staff chaplain at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis since 2011, shared that it's not all "hunky-dory." As medical professionals, chaplains do not always succeed in assisting their patients, some of who do not want their help. Nearly every chaplain interviewed made it clear that patients do not always want to see them, and while some patients change their minds, many do not. However, chaplains rarely consider being kicked out of a patient’s room a bad thing. In the words of Rev. Denise Dunbar-Perkins, who retired from her position as staff chaplain at Abbott Northwestern in 2017 after 13 years, receiving treatment in a medical institution often means that patients "don’t have control" over their lives like they normally do. She said that this loss of control equates to having "those basic rights of a human taken away," in the interest of providing the best medical care.

Rabbi Lynn Liberman, a former chaplain resident at Abbott Northwestern, noted that chaplains can serve as a welcome break for patients who are constantly visited by doctors and nurses and who are struggling with the loss of normalcy that Rev. Dunbar-Perkins described.

For the most part, [chaplains are] welcomed, I think most of the time people in these situations are glad to have the non-invasive presence of somebody whose primary interest is them. [Lots of times] patients have told me 'Oh, it's so great to not have somebody coming in to prod me or take my temperature, tell me I have to go do something, draw blood, whatever it is. You're just here to talk with me.’
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

However, not all patients are interested in seeing a chaplain, regardless of their religious persuasion. Chaplains strive to respect the needs and wishes of the patients, even if those needs and wishes exclude them. Both Rabbi Liberman and Rev. Dr. Verlyn Hemmen, who supervised the chaplains and the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at Abbott Northwestern for nearly 20 years, shared that there are many times when chaplains arrive and introduce themselves, only for the patient to ask them to leave. Rev. Dr. Hemmen discussed how the rejection of a chaplain's presence by patients can actually be a good thing.

There are times when we are uninvited from [a patient's] room and we often talk about the importance of that. The freedom for a patient to, sort of, quote 'throw us out of the room' is the one thing they might have control over when everything else is totally out of their control. It seems their disease is rampant, doctors and nurses come in their room at their schedule not the patient's, we take their clothes away, they're sleeping in a strange bed, so they feel pretty powerless, [that] is my sense. And the ability to throw us out of the room is the one [thing they might have control over], [it] might be the high point of their day for that matter. We learn not to take that personally and to respect the patient and what they need. 
—Rev. Dr. Verlyn Hemmen

Rabbi Liberman shared a similar perspective on the positives of being rejected by patients.

Sometimes you get kicked out of the room and that's fine. Actually, we joke about the fact [that] that's actually, really sometimes [a] good thing because a patient is being assertive where perhaps they cannot be in any other moment of their life because they are all hooked up to some machines, or hooked up to some medicines or procedures, and the fact that they have gumption left to kick us out is great, that gives them charge and ownership in the moment.
—Rabbi Lynn Liberman

In moments like this, although the hospital chaplains have been "uninvited" from a patient's room, they are still able to serve the patient by giving them some control and choice in a medical environment where such options are often a rarity.