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The Deep Compassion Where Family, Life, and Healthcare Meet: Pastoral Care

The Deep Compassion Where Family, Life, and Healthcare Meet: Pastoral Care

By (Fr) Chris Ponnet, Director of Spiritual Care at LA General Medical Center
The Deep Compassion Where Family, Life, and Healthcare Meet Pastoral Care PIC

The Deep Compassion Where Family, Life, and Healthcare Meet: Pastoral Care

The Deep Compassion Where Family, Life, and Healthcare Meet: Pastoral Care 214 213 Health Services Los Angeles County

Professional chaplains around the world celebrate Spiritual Care week the last week of October. 2020 will be always remembered in the context of COVID-19. Chaplains Complete the Picture is the theme and we have found this is so true during this pandemic.

COVID-19 has effected us all. As chaplains our shared experience has been, we are part of the medical team but with a human connection to patients, families and medical staff. We help complete the picture. We pull along sign of a patients when no can visit to accompany and hear their story and concerns. Many times it has nothing to do with their illness, trauma or COVID status. It has to do with the work, family, finances or who is caring for the house/apartment or dog/cat.  The isolation with COVID or because of COVID really moves people to share more and appreciate the chaplain part of the medical puzzle.

Martha was nearing the end of life, she did not have COVID, but family were not able to visit for several weeks. As the family and medical team moved forward with the decision to compassionate remove artificial life support they asked for a chaplain. Three children were at bedside and I was going to connect with tele chaplaincy thru facetime. When the RN made the connection, it was clear this family had lots of energy and they were at peace with their decision. I asked them to tell me about Martha and they had wonderful stories of love, hard work and always being their for them. When we began to prayer they formed a circle and I was part of their circle thru the phone. We prayed and blessed Martha and they, not I, reached out and touched her with blessings, tenderness and gratitude. Martha received the blessing of the community, the church-her family. As a chaplain, I was there to “complete the circle” of the larger spiritual community. The family were filled with joy and gratitude that the hospital saw the chaplains as part of the collaborative healthcare team.

Alex was a middle aged man who had COVID and the decision was to remove him from life support. The wife was outside of the room, behind the door window around 6 feet from the patient. She was wailing in emotional pain, she was holding her phone and with facetime telling her love of her eternal love and gratitude and giving forgiveness and seeking forgiveness. They was another phone that had several children looking into the whole situation—separated from their father dying and their mother in such grief. I entered the room with all the PPE. They were Catholic so I brought a paper towel that has some sacred oil for anointing. There was a iPad at the bedside so she and all the children could see me. I led in Spanish the prayers of blessing, forgiveness and letting go with Psalms and the Lord’s prayer. They were so grateful that the chaplain, the priest chaplain, was in the room with their loved one for these last moments of life here and trusting the promise of Resurrection. The RN was holding the women most of the time as this grief process unfolded and together we held this family and patient in the ‘whole picture.” As I stepped out of the room, I turned to the RN as I charted and made time for their own struggles with seeing so many people die but the added stress of families not able to visit.

The puzzle of COVID is complex and is made complete with the presence of the chaplains either in person or by tele chaplaincy. We are humbled as we as allowed at LA General Medical Center to be part the Collaborative team. The puzzle of health care includes all the first responders who together provide medical, emotional and spiritual pieces of the puzzle of death and life.

Spiritual Care Week October 25-31 will be celebrated around the world and at LA General with actions of gratitude for medical staff, tea with the chaplains and with “virtual” speakers to inspire chaplains and affirm this collaborative healthcare vision.