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Off to Hospital
So you are going to visit a patient in hospital? Before you go you should know the reason that prompts you to make the decision to go. The simple question to ask before you make any move is "Why am I going?" That perhaps sounds ridiculous. It is not. The motive for your visit is a gauge against which the value of your visit will be measured. Your reason for visiting will be reflected in your attitude to the patient, and in most cases that attitude will be obvious to the patient. Too often our decision is reached without any thought of how or why the visit is being made.
Too many visitors may have an adverse effect on the progress of a patient in hospital, as well as the nature of the visit. As those who move among patients daily, chaplains and staff frequently hear expressions of relief that a visitor or visitors have at last gone. Patients are sometimes more exhausted and weak on a Monday morning after a weekend of visitors. There are also the occasions when a patient becomes very depressed following the visit of a pastoral person who speaks inappropriately.
After visits by two clergymen to different terminally ill patients, the relatives present at the time of each minister's call requested that those visitors not be allowed near the patient again. On both occasions the reading of the twenty-third Psalm, and in particular the verse that refers to the "valley of the shadow of death," caused concern and distress. In one it was the spouse who was not able to cope with the reality of the situation.
One must assume that in both cases the visitors went with the purpose of preparing the patient to face death. They had a purpose, a motive and most probably had thought out their agenda for the visit. However, it proved not only ineffective but also harmful.
WHY AM I GOING?
There will be many surprises if this question is faced honestly. The reasons for hospital visitation will vary and we shall see that many are of dubious character.
Out of duty
As a relative, friend or pastoral care visitor, the reason for going to the hospital springs so often out of a sense of obligation. The fulfillment of that sense of duty hopefully will make the patient happy. Is this a trap we fall into? Are we visiting in order to be released from the guilt of unperformed responsibility? All this has a ring of selfishness about it. It is satisfying our ego. Duty can help fulfill our desire to be needed and our sense of being a martyr for the cause. It promotes the concept, which we desire other people to have of us, of always being busy doing good.
Doing our job helps maintain the reputation and name we are building for ourselves. The greater the inconvenience, the greater the expected acclaim. The duty visit lacks the vital component of pastoral care: spiritual sensitivity.
The mantle's accepted
Appointed as an official hospital visitor the person assumes a certain performance framework. Lay pastoral care workers and clergy frequently fall into this trap.
A parishioner is in hospital so a visit must be made to fly the flag. In doing so, an official church visitor presumes a certain expectation by the church to perform particular functions, such as reading the Bible and praying. As I will show later, these may be inappropriate at that particular stage of the patient's hospitalization.
The mantle that has been assumed is likely to color the method of approaching the bedside. Naturalness and spontaneity are sometimes forsaken in order to fit the role.
Role modeling as a parish visitor often presumes that religion will be raised during the visit. Such a preconception, particularly if you know little about the patient, is as subtle as pushing a bull into a china shop to catch the attention of the proprietor.
To cheer up the patient
It must be remembered that persons under treatment in hospital are not physically well. Their whole person, body, mind and spirit in most cases, is affected by the illness or treatment. This means that they tire easily. Rest and sleep are two of the greatest components of the recuperative process.
A patient was three days out of major surgery. A good friend, a renowned pastoral visitor, came along armed with a small projector and slides of a recent holiday with the intention of providing something of interest to take the patient's mind off the pain. To entertain? To cheer up? The patient was in agony, heightened through the effort of trying to concentrate and not appear rude by nodding off for the much-needed rest. The visit lasted three hours. One wonders how many lengthy entertainment visits were made to other patients who were less understanding.
Out of curiosity or competition
Hospitals and illness hold an unusual fascination for some people. They seem to have an obsession with patients' symptoms and treatments. For this reason such people are eager to become hospital visitors.
Other folk love to know what is going on in the families of the community. The church calls for prayer for those in hospital. It is a topic for conversation. To have visited the patient in hospital is to have first-hand information and the bearer of such information becomes the center of news—that may be presented as data sincerely conveyed for the purposes of prayer. The visit and the visitor become the source for the church bulletin news flash!
Both these compulsions give rise to visits that are of little value because they are made out of curiosity, to satisfy a personal need: the need to be the center of news or attention, to be thought of as selfless and caring, to be near suffering, pain or even death, or just to be in the know as to what is going on. Such visits seldom bring support, comfort or strength to the patient.
A successful and respected pastoral carer was the envy of another person, who increased visits to a particular patient in order to outdo the first visitor. The patient knew exactly what was going on and when the jealous visitor's calls became a source of anxiety and a burden, she conveyed her feelings to the carer she valued. To spare her the strain of too many visits, and because he detested competition in Christian service, this pastoral worker cut down on his own calls. In this case, the loser was the patient.
A visit to a patient in hospital must be offered in deepest sincerity and with a genuine desire to provide positive pastoral care. Curiosity and competition are evils that have no place in the context of hospital care.CHAPTER 2
Visiting the Patient
QUESTIONS VISITORS NEED TO ASK THEMSELVES
Does the patient need a visit?
One hospital I know has a very strict protocol concerning visitors to patients in intensive care. Only members of the immediate family and only one member of the clergy associated with the patient's church are allowed to the bedside. The chaplain of the intensive care unit has the responsibility to verify the identity of that priest, minister or rabbi. This policy had to be brought in because a patient from a family well known in religious circles had numbers of clergy popping in and causing confusion.
The wisdom of your visit at a particular time has to be considered in the light of the best interests of the patient. One patient may be too weak to see you and may need all the rest possible. Another patient may have sufficient people offering pastoral care. Remember, visitors may often unnecessarily tire and exhaust patients. At the height of the crisis you m
Excerpted from PASTORAL CARE IN HOSPITALS by Neville A. Kirkwood. Copyright © 2005 by Neville A. Kirkwood. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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FOREWORD BY RON DAVOREN
INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND EDITION
SECTION 1—FOR HOSPITAL VISITORS
Chapters 1 Off to Hospital
2 Visiting the Patient
3 Respecting the Patient
5 Relatives and Friends
Supplements 1 Nonverbal Communication Indicators
2 Voice Characteristics and Their Meaning
3 Death and You
SECTION 2—FOR LAY PASTORAL WORKERS
Chapters 6 The Patient's Needs
7 The Patient in Crisis
9 The Place of Prayer
10 Jesus—A Theological Model
Supplements 4 Theological Meditations
5 Examples of Patients' Prayers
6 Examples of Visitors' Prayers
7 Jesus—A Theological Model
SECTION 3—FOR CLERGY VISITING HOSPITALS
Chapters 11 Know Yourself
12 Competence and Empathy
13 Why Suffering?
15 Theological Reflection
Supplements 8 Developing Awareness
9 Reflecting Theologically
10 Just a Coffee Mug
SECTION 4—FOR THE HOSPITAL CHAPLAIN
Chapters 16 The Carer's Motivation
17 Pitfalls for the Chaplain
18 Avoiding the Pits
19 Stop, Revive, Survive
Supplements 11 A Chaplain Prays
12 A Chaplain Reflects
13 A Chaplain Muses
14 A Chaplain Meditates
15 A Chaplain Invites
16 A Chaplain is Comforted