This blog post from Ignatian Volunteer Marta Sayeed was originally published in IVC Chicago’s Footprints blog.
For several years, I have volunteered as a chaplain assistant at Stroger (formerly Cook County) Hospital. Earlier this year, it took me longer to decide if I was going to go back to the same volunteer assignment. I went through my usual process of debating if I should travel so long in the morning. My thoughts about the travel time are usually accompanied by my displeasure with being part of such a large, sometimes unresponsive bureaucracy.
But this year something different happened: I started to seriously consider changing assignments and look at other possible service options. The thought of leaving Stroger, however, was unsettling. Only in quiet prayer, I began to realize what was happening.
There are many aspects about Stroger Hospital that I obviously like but, at the same, fear. Stroger is the place where sickness collides with poverty creating very painful circumstances. It is where you see a homeless man coming into the hospital for chemotherapy treatment settling in his room with all his possessions. You wonder who will be there for him when he leaves. All you can do is accompany him while he is there and say a prayer when he leaves. You see a young mother who is going through a very difficult pregnancy. She has been hospitalized twice and in the process lost her job. With only her husband’s salary, they could no longer pay the rent. She, her husband, and their son now sleep on an air mattress on the floor of their mother’s apartment. You see a single mother of four staying in the hospital with her 14-year old daughter who is undergoing cancer treatments. They live 20 miles away from the hospital, so she stays with her day and night. I worried about the possibility of her losing her job. But, with great peace she said to me: “My place is here with her and He has never abandoned us.” You see children who are victims of violence in their homes and in the streets coming to be treated, but you know the causes of their wounds remain the same.
This year more than ever I became aware of these realities. At the same time, I became more aware of how the patients teach me about living in true faith and hope. I remembered the thoughts I had when I started volunteering at the hospital. I remembered that of the two days I spent at the hospital each week, one was spent with fellow Chaplain Fr. Bob Finn, SJ. We would always engage in very serious conversations about the hospital, the bureaucracy and the patients. He probably perceived that somedays I felt overwhelmed, so he would calmly say to me: “Walk out into the hallway and just say, ‘take me where I am the most needed today.’” Fr. Bob recently passed away, but his words are always with me.
So I have stayed for another year. When I drive home in the afternoon, I always feel a sense of gratitude for all the gifts that I receive. But on some very special days, I feel a sense of a very deep true gratitude that sometimes brings tears to my eyes. At those moments, I say a short prayer of gratitude to God for allowing me to serve at Stroger Hospital, for supporting me in this work, and for guiding me when I am there. In those moments, once more, I remember Fr. Bob’s words.
Marta Hernandez Sayeed has been an Ignatian Volunteer for 10 years, of which she has spent 6 years at Stroger Hospital, the public hospital for Chicago and its surrounding areas. The mission of the hospital is to serve whoever comes to its door.