Hospital chaplaincy: highlights and challenges

Reflections

“I have been working as a hospital chaplain for over three years. It is a diverse, challenging and awe-inspiring role…As Chaplains, we work as part of the allied health team to provide holistic healthcare in the way of spiritual and emotional support to patients, families, friends and staff,” says Hospital Chaplain and Parish of Robina member Michelle Philp

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Walking into an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is daunting for anyone, with the sounds, smells, energy and the cool temperature hitting you as soon as you open the door. To add to my nervousness, I experienced this during my first week and in response to a referral. The Gold Coat University Hospital ICU has 40 beds, and its layout and size remind me of what a rabbit warren would look like. I take a deep breath and go and find the room.

As I return to the office, I wonder if I can do my role justice. I felt out of place. I felt like I was in the way. I did not like these feelings and at the time wondered whether the person I was visiting felt this, too. I knew that I needed to do something about this, as I want those I visit, the staff and families to have someone visiting them who is comfortable in the space.

So, I researched online and stumbled across a program in a Boston hospital, where Chaplains and Spiritual Carers invite staff from ICU to lunch events, with the staff visiting the Spiritual Care Centre to enjoy lunch and relax with foot and hand massages. The Boston report said feedback from staff was very positive. I was inspired by this example, and felt that if I could become familiar with the staff, I would feel more comfortable in ICU.

I organised a sponsored lunch, asked massage therapists to donate time, and set up chillout zones and mindfulness activities. The team from ICU attended, and the feedback was amazing. Holding such events has helped me to achieve a number of key things. Firstly, I am now the Ward Chaplain for the ICU – getting to know the hospital staff, in part through the lunch events, has enabled me to build significant mutual trust. Secondly, more than 1500 staff from all over the hospital have attended these lunches. And lastly, the regular event has been nominated for the hospital value awards.

I have been working as a hospital chaplain for over three years. Previously, I was working in a women’s refuge and I felt the need for a change, and was drawn to the position because it seemed like a diverse, challenging and awe-inspiring role, which it is. I am continually inspired by those I meet daily, whether fellow Chaplains or patients share their stories with me. At time likes this, I am reminded of what an honour it is to do this work. As Chaplains, we work as part of the allied health team to provide holistic healthcare in the way of spiritual and emotional support to patients, families, friends and staff.

One of my favourite highlights of my role, demonstrates the broader community’s care and concern for our hospitals. Last year, I was visiting the ICU and walked past a room where I saw a nurse combing her patient’s hair. I smiled and then walked into the room. The nurse explained that she was preparing her patient for the family who were arriving later that day to say good bye. The nurse was using one of those small black finely toothed combs, and she was having trouble getting it through the patient’s hair. The nurse also said she likes to apply either scented body lotion or perfume before the family comes to say goodbye, but that these were not available in the ICU. After speaking with this nurse and her team leader, I emailed the Parish of Surfers Paradise with a wish list that the nurses compiled, which included male and female deodorant, men’s shaving items, perfumed body lotion, wide-toothed combs and hair ties. Within weeks I was able to take bags of newly donated items to the ICU. The nurses now have shelves full of toiletry items to provide care to ICU patients, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of Surfers Paradise parishioners.

COVID-19 has given us many additional hurdles to overcome; however, in doing so, it has presented our communities with additional opportunities to be generous. I have collected many ‘thank you’ cards from local day care centres and schools and distributed these personally to staff working on COVID-19’s frontlines. These cards are now proudly displayed on the wards. The local Surfers Paradise Anglican Church has also ‘lent’ me The Rev’d Trevor Sketcher three mornings a week. We share Morning Prayer together and then he visits patients on our visiting list who are on various wards, as well as staff. This has been an amazing gift. However, as COVID-19 has impacted the number of visitors that patients are allowed, this has in turn affected the nurses’ social support system, and their feelings of isolation, as chaplaincy visits have consequently slowed down.

Chaplaincy ties in with the Third Mark of Mission “to respond to human need by loving service”, as it brings our gifts of compassion, understanding and just ‘being together’ to all our interactions in the hospital environment. I believe I am truly blessed to be part of an amazing team, a team that shares the same values and understands that we are guided by our love of God.

I would like to invite anyone who is curious about this incredibly rewarding work to spend time with a Chaplain – to ask questions and hear stories. We need many more volunteers to continue to serve those in the ACSQ’s Regions’ hospitals.

For more information on this special ministry, please email chaplaincy@anglicanchurchsq.org.au.

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