The Healing Ministry - Institutionalized
discovered, were much like other human beings.
They had babies of their own, their children were injured, family
members died. The stresses of life sometimes brought them to seek a chaplain’s
counsel. She baptized their children,
performed their marriages, sat by their bedsides when they found themselves on
the wrong end of an IV line. It was all part
of her job.
It was no secret that the
nursing staff was grumpy. What once
“felt like a family” was now a factory, according to them.
used to feel we were all in this together for the sake of the patients,” one
explained. “We also had the silly idea
that the hospital cared about us as nurses, as people.”
hospital had hired a consulting firm whose first recommendation was to replace
as many nurses as possible with low-cost patient care technicians. The nurses were to teach these PCTs the easy,
less demanding, parts of their jobs. To
nurses, all parts of the job were important and not to be shuffled off to
the hospital approached the State Board of Nursing with a plan to establish a
new job category. They would hire fully-licensed, recent nursing school
graduates, give them staff nurse assignments, call them clinical support
associates, but pay them considerably less than they were currently paying
nurses. The Board said, “no.”
wasn’t just the nursing staff being scrutinized for cost-saving opportunities.
won’t have the luxury of ‘being nice’ under managed care,” the supervisor told
the chaplains. “When a patient is diagnosed as brain
dead, it costs money to wait 24 to 48 hours before turning off the life support
system.” The current policy was to delay such action
until the family had come to terms with the situation. Sometimes that took a couple of days.
might be true,” Lydia
reported to the Presence, “But I hope I never have to tell a patient’s family
that it is just too expensive to keep mom ‘alive’ until all the children get
here. A little silence for lost
innocence, lost humanity, please.”
The Presence remained quiet, honoring
news commentators, researchers, and local PTA
chairs all carped about the soaring costs of medical care – and how to contain
it. Nurses had not had an increase in salary for several years. Even so, this
was not their major concern. The real
issue was cutbacks in staffing were not conducive to good patient outcomes.
occasional comment here, a bulletin board notice there, the nurses carried on.
But the tension was spreading like a bad infection.
can’t strike against a Catholic-owned hospital,” one nurse confided to her. “It
would be like striking the Church. We were told that in a meeting today.” Absolutely certain this was not the case, Lydia
began researching Catholic social teachings and the labor movement.
come in handy at some point,” she told the Presence.
Ummm, came the response.
The snow began to fall.
became a grandmother that winter. Her daughter-in-law gave birth to a healthy,
chubby girl. Lydia’s
son could not have been a prouder father.
same day, two babies were born to another couple at the hospital. The tiny boy twin was very fragile. His
sister survived, but he did not.
was delighted at the arrival of her grandchild, but she was also concerned
about the family whose child had died. At a family dinner that evening,
conversation focused on cars, drama productions, diets, schedules and
jobs. There was some talk about the
healthy grandchild, but none about the little boy. No one knew about him.
the Presence. When the family evening
lay in bed talking with her Companion, trying to sort out the conflicting
emotions of the day. She gave thanks for
her granddaughter and prayed for her son and daughter-in-law. She also asked God to watch over the second
family. She prayed for the twin sister
who would grow up wondering what it would have been like to have a
Lydia went to
was wonderful in this part of the world.
Temperatures would plummet, and ice fog would roll in. When the fog lifted, there would be
incredible, bright cerulean blue skies, with dazzling ice crystals encasing the
tree branches, the mailboxes, any underbrush yet peaking above the fallen
snow. As evening approached, the sky
would turn pink and finally deep blue black with a sprinkling of stars. It was too cold for new snow, but the breath
of man and beast would freeze in the air and one could hear the crunching of ice
crystals under foot.
wasn’t so bad to be dragged out of bed in the middle of one of these cold,
clear nights. Lydia
would breathe in the icy air and sleep would vanish. A light headache would remain, but she was
awake and able to be with and to pray with a grieving family.
wasn’t the cold winter nights that were the worst, it was the warmer ones. Newly
fallen snow would pile up six inches, then eight, maybe twelve to fifteen
inches deep. Backing out of a garage on a sloping hill during one of these
nights was scary – but not as terrifying as when the wind joined forces with
the snow to impede a would-be motorist.
one such snowy, wind-whipped night, Lydia
received a telephone call from a former patient. The woman was feverish, almost
delirious; she needed to get to the hospital, but didn’t drive, and had no
money for a taxicab. Would Lydia
come and drive her to the hospital?
looked out the window. No. There would
be no way to go out this night without being blown off the road. A slow-moving taxi with chains might make it,
but the patient had no money with which to hire one.
told her to call a cab to take her to the hospital and she would arrange for a
taxi voucher at the other end. The plan
was put in place and Lydia
called the house supervisor on duty. The
supervisor was not pleased. Taxi
vouchers were only for leaving the
hospital, not for coming to the
hospital. Nonetheless, the voucher was
that night, Lydia
received a second call from the patient. She thanked the chaplain for the taxi
voucher and explained what the doctors had found when she reached the hospital.
A venal nerve stimulator implanted in the woman’s chest sent electrical shocks
to her brain to short-circuit epileptic seizures. The area around this device
had become infected and the infection had spread to her brain. It was apparently
pretty serious and she was being flown to a Seattle
hospital that night. She thanked the
chaplain again and hung up. Lydia
nodded toward the Presence and went to bed.
next morning Lydia
waited for the snow plow before she could leave for work. At the hospital, she was summoned by the
house supervisor to explain her actions of the night before. The supervisor accused her of misusing
hospital resources by demanding the taxi voucher for a friend.
was the hospital’s patient long before she was my friend,” the chaplain
should have told her to call an ambulance,” the supervisor insisted.
the potential thousand-dollar ambulance charge against a five-dollar taxi
decided the comment deserved no response.
I wonder who paid for the emergency flight
to Seattle, Lydia
wondered to herself.
with the emergency room,” Lydia
demanded, “The patient was flown out of here early this morning – a critical
situation that the hospital apparently did not feel it was capable of
handling. This was a damn emergency!”
conversation ended. The patient eventually recovered and returned home. Lydia
wasn’t sure who paid the return airfare either, but she felt certain it
amounted to more than the taxi voucher.
You know, I’m just not an institution person,
the chaplain later explained to the Presence.
You may be right, the Presence
sighed. Let me think.
spent that week conducting mental health healing circles, parent grief groups,
groups for aspiring chaplains, and a wedding.
As chaplain for the neonatal intensive care unit, she had found a
wonderful woman who would knit miniature caps and blankets for the tiny
neonates who arrived in this world and then quickly left again. When a child died, the nurses would dress the
tiny baby in one of the matching little ensembles before handing the child to
its parents to say goodbye. Some times
the baby was buried or cremated in the little outfit, but more frequently, the
parents kept the cap and blanket as a remembrance of their child. This afternoon, the chaplain picked up
another dozen of the sets to take back to the hospital. The woman who knit them would accept no
compensation, considering this her ministry.
stopped at a grocery store to buy some teabags and cookies for the nurses on
her units. When she returned to the hospital, she was summoned to the emergency
room to sit with a youngster named Edmund while his mother, who had been in a
motor vehicle accident, underwent surgery.
glad I got back here in time,” Lydia
whispered to the Presence.
Me, too, the Presence replied. Otherwise it would have been just him and me.
and Edmund – aged about five – toured the facility and became close
friends. One hour turned into several,
and Lydia began
to worry about Edmund’s mother. Edmund,
on the other hand, seemed totally at ease.
like you. You walk like my grandmother
in New York!” he informed the
Precocious little kid, Lydia
noted, with a glance toward the Presence.
Laughing at herself, she took the boy back down to the cafeteria for more
the day came to a close, word came that Edmund’s mother had survived nicely.
She’d awakened, talked with the nursing staff, and was able to arrange for a
neighbor to rescue Edmund for the night.
She would be discharged in the morning.
“Nice day,” she told the
Presence on her way home. “Baby booties, Edmund and ice cream. Thank you.”
Don’t forget to take in the groceries,
the Presence reminded her. The Pastoral
Care tea party. The feast on wheels
designed to reach out to nurses and bring a spot of relief during their busy
might better appreciate extra staff so they can take a break in the first
place,” the chaplain said out loud.
But in the meantime, don’t withhold the tea and the cookies.