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Guest post: “What a hospital chaplain learned about ICU waiting when his own father died”

Copyright 2016 by Brian Williamson

hospitalwaiting

(NOTE: Brian Williamson is an experienced hospital chaplain, but recently he experienced the other side of ministry, spending many hours in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit –ICU– as his own father died. In this post, he shares his observations, in hopes that it can help those of us who visit the sick and their families, especially those in ICU.)

These are some notes I prepared from my experiences in the ICU waiting room as a family member when my father was dying. Since I work extensively in this area as a hospital chaplain, the new experience from a personal perspective has given me insights into how I can better minister to folks going through something like this. Since my observations are filled with my own feelings, they could be negatively or positively impacted by what I’m feeling and/or experiencing. I’ve offered them to my friend and co-worker, Bob Rogers to share with others. My hope is that they will be insightful and helpful to others. So, take them for what you think they’re worth.
1. ICU family members (yes, I was guilty!)  are pivoting/hinging on every little idea of their loved one getting better. You want your loved one to “be” better, so if something is “a little better” (such as a lab result, an O2 sat, blood gas, etc.) then you accentuate that and project it to everything else. This may not be the case… (“He squeezed my hand, so I know he’s getting better!” “The kidneys are looking good.” Some nurses might say, “the numbers are a little better today,” or “We turned the O2 down to 60%, so that’s a little better…” {never mind the tea-colored urine, the 9 medicines in the IV bags, the ventilator set on “C-full control” and the doctor is just hoping that you won’t have to turn it back up, etc., etc.})

2. People in the waiting room—family members, staff, pastors, etc.—tell you what to believe and what to say; and you’re usually polite enough to not slap them when they do; or to argue with them, because you know they won’t understand.

3. There is no shortage of people who want to tell you what it’s like for them. They ask you what’s going on with your loved one, but then they interrupt you to tell you “their story.” When they finish, they usually have forgotten that they haven’t heard your story.

4. Very few people really want to hear your story or talk about your memories; or what’s important to you. Fallacious clichés such as, “I know how you feel” and “I know what that’s like” are the status quo. The reality is that people in the ICU waiting room have their own pain and struggles to deal with. You feel connected to them; but, when your story starts to “go south,” they distance from you as if what you’re experiencing is contagious. If you’re loved one begins to worsen, they leave you alone and whisper to other waiting room people about what’s happening with your patient.

5. Many preachers, ministers, etc., form circles with families that block traffic in the middle of the aisles, then pray loudly—and pray, and pray and pray. Most of them leave after the prayer, and then it’s very interesting what people talk about after the minister leaves.

6. When someone is on the ventilator they have to be sedated (usually). The sedation helps keep the person relaxed so the machine can be beneficial. BUT…what I didn’t know is that every 12 hrs, the sedation has to be turned off in order to “let the person wake up a little bit.” This test helps the hospital be aware of mental changes. During the time the sedation is off, the nurse assesses the patient’s ability to respond to instructions like “squeeze my fingers,” “blink your eyes,” “wiggle your toes,” etc. In other words, you awake every 12 hrs to a tube down your throat that makes you cough and gag, you become just awake enough to know you’re not able to breathe. This can be quite punishing to the patient.

7. Silence is golden. Nurses work hard at saying the right thing and “keeping you company,” which is very special and sometimes greatly appreciated; but, I think that being quiet while being with someone is usually more valuable as their loved one is dying. One of the best questions I heard a nurse ask was, “Would you like some privacy or would you like me to stay with you a little longer?” The worst question I heard was asked by a nurse as I sat in a chair in the pod outside my dad’s room, just after his death… “Uh, you’re the chaplain, right? Well, I was wondering, “How do you feel about monogamy in marriage?”

8. Always visiting during visiting hours may not be the best idea for clergy members. Families get precious few minutes every few hours that could end up being the last minutes they have with their loved one alive. Experiment with waiting room visits followed by in-room visits. I suggest taking someone for a walk around the building, to the canteen, to the coffee shop or somewhere outside. If they ask you to “go back” with them, then go. If not, don’t.

9. There’s lots of praying going on, even though you can’t hear it.

(This is Bob again. From reading Brian’s observations, five lessons come to mind for ministry to families in ICU waiting rooms: 1. Be quiet and really listen, 2. Don’t offer pat answers, 3. Keep vocal prayers soft and short,  4. Don’t be afraid of silence, and 5. Don’t abandon them when they hurt the most. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.)

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Prayers for the sick

PrayerSickCopyright by Bob Rogers.

Perhaps more than any other kind of prayer, people pray for the sick. Yet many are at a loss as to what to say in their prayers.

Honest, simple prayers are best. The Bible teaches us to be honest and straightforward with God in our prayers. King Hezekiah just reminded God of his service to the Lord, and wept. God heard his prayer and his tears and answered his prayer. (2 Kings 20). Mary and Martha prayed a simple prayer to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was sick. They just presented him to the Lord, saying, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” (John 11:3) Lazarus died, and they may have felt their prayer was not heard. Yet a few days later, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead! Let that be a reminder to us that what matters in our prayer for the sick is the One to whom we pray, not the words that we say.

Pray in faith. It is also important to remember that when we pray, we must pray in faith, believing God really has power to do amazing things in answer to our prayer. James 5:15 says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick person.”  If we only think prayer is positive thinking to make us feel good, we might as well just dispense with the pretense that we are talking to Almighty God, and say, “Hey, cheer up! Think good thoughts!” Most of us know that such pop psychology as a denial of reality. We know there truly is a Person greater than us, a Supreme Creator, who revealed His love to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

With that said, people still struggle with how to put their heart-felt faith into words. So with the above in mind, here are some prayers that I have prayed for the sick, or have heard others pray. May they be an encouragement to others to pray in faith to the Great Physician.

 

General prayers

 

“Heavenly Father, we thank You for the medicine and knowledge used by the doctors and nurses, but we realize that these are gifts from You, for You are our Great Physician and Healer. Please give wisdom to the doctors as they seek the best treatment, give compassion to the nurses as they care for their patients, give stamina to the family who are caring for their loved ones, and give to the patient Your peace that passes all understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

“Father, we thank You for Your power to heal, for You created our bodies. We thank You for Your presence in our time of sickness, to bring us strength and encouragement. We thank You for the prayers of our family and friends, who lift up this one who is sick to Your throne of grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.” – Nathan Barber (adapted)

 

“God, my loved one is ill. I ask for your healing power to come upon them. You give us life and you have the power to renew life. I believe in your power to heal. Open my loved one to whatever for your healing power takes. And help me remember that, no matter what happens, you are the same yesterday, today and forever. You are always with us. Amen.” – Norman Vincent Peale

 

“Jesus, when You walked this earth, you often touched the sick and healed their bodies. We also know that you did more than heal bodies—you brought healing to the spirit and soul, forgiveness to sinners, and reconciliation to enemies. Today we ask that you heal this one who is sick in any and every way that he needs—touch his body, soul and spirit with your healing power. And we will give You the glory for all that you will do. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.”

 

“O thou who hearest prayer, we pray thee to be very kind and merciful to thy child, whose body suffers in pain and weakness. Grant unto him patience and tranquility of mind; peace, purity, and courage of soul; the strong will to live; and a heart ready to trust thee waking or sleeping. Bless all the means used for his recovery, and all who minister to him in his suffering. Restore him speedily to health, if it please thee, and above all things grant him that which thou knowest to be best for him, and keep him thine for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.” – Henry Van Dyke

“I pray, God, that You will refuse Satan’s requests when he accuses people (as with Job), I ask You, God, to let nothing hinder Your good plans in their lives, and that You use their situation for Your glory, to bring them and those around them closer to You, and that You heal them if that be what’s best for them.” – Emily Jordan Leggett

“Lord, we ask for Your will to be done in every situation, for wisdom for doctors, strength for families and the one who is sick. We ask for healing, for guidance in every situation, for peace and comfort, for Your Spirit to fill each and every person involved, that Your wrap Your arms around them, that they will know without a doubt that You’re with them. We thank You, Lord, for being our provider, our comforter, our strong tower, our peace, our refuge and our strength in time of need. And we thank You, Lord, for being all of everything for the ones who need healing. We ask for Your army of angels to protect them and may Your will be done. In Jesus name.” – Crystal Hallauer Basdeo (adapted)

“Heavenly Father, we lift the name of this patient before Your throne of grace, and we thank You that it is a throne because you are King of kings, and it is a throne of grace because you are a God of grace and mercy. We ask that you would work in such a wonderful way, that Your Name would be glorified, our faith would be edified, and the old devil would be horrified. As our prayers go up, may your blessings come down.”

 

Prayers for the caregivers

 

“Thank you, God, for my doctor and nurses. Thank you for their skills and training. Thank you for their patience with me when I am irritable because I don’t feel well. Give them the insight they need to diagnose my illness and determine the right treatment. Steady their hands and give them the power to heal in your name. Amen.” – Norman Vincent Peale (adapted)

“Heavenly Father, we thank You for the knowledge You have given to the doctors, the compassion of the nurses, and the faithful love of this patient’s family. We realize they are able to do what they do because You have given them the ability. We ask that you bless each caregiver, so they can be a blessing to this one who is sick.”

 

Before surgery

 

“Heavenly Father, this Your servant is preparing for surgery. She’s nervous about it, Father. Would you calm her spirit with your peace that passes all understanding? We thank You for the skill and knowledge of the surgeon, and we ask You to guide the surgeon’s hands to complete a successful surgery. We ask that you give this servant of Yours a full recovery, and the patience that she will need during the time of recovery. Please use that time to draw her closer to You, as she must depend on You more than ever before. We thank you for her family who are here by her side. She is so blessed to have so many people caring for her right now. We thank you for how you work all things together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. We pray this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”

 

“Our Father, as we face this new experience we come to You for peace and strength. We have confidence in Your healing power and in the doctor. You gave the very life which we have, and since we belong to You, we have trust and faith. We thank You for the understanding that we are constantly surrounded by Your loving, healing care. May Your power be felt through invisible forces. May this operation be successful that this Your child may return to health and useful living; for the sake of Christ and in His Spirit. Amen.” – Edmond Holt Babbitt (adapted)

 

For someone not expected to recover

 

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26

“Oh, Lord, Your Word says in the Shepherd’s Psalm that You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies. Lord, in the midst of this enemy of sickness, would you prepare a table of peace, comfort, grace and mercy? We ask that you will pour out your blessings, and we will let You define the blessing.”

 

“Dear Lord, we do not understand the reason for suffering. We wish we knew the answer to the question, ‘Why?’ But even though we do not have the answer to the question, ‘Why?’, we will not let go of Your hand, for we know that You hold the answer. We will trust You now in the dark, because we know that the Lord is our light and our salvation. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who shed His precious blood on the cross to forgive us, and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Amen.”

 

“Heavenly Father, our hearts are broken over the sickness of the one we love. We know that You love him even more than we do. We know that even at this late hour, you are fully able to heal him. But we also know that for every follower of Jesus, there is a spiritual healing that is greater than any physical healing. We know that you have created a place where there is no more suffering, crying or pain. So we ask for peace to accept whatever healing You choose to give him. If You choose to heal him physically now, we will rejoice and glorify You. If You choose to heal him spiritually now, we will rejoice and glorify You, because of our firm hope in the resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

 

“Our Father, you have given our loved one to us, and You love her even as we do. In confidence and trust we give her back to You. We know that she is Yours. As we climb the steep ascent of faith, please speak peace to our hearts. Take from us all bitterness and mistrust. Although we do not know the answer to many of life’s questions, we do know that we may live in Your love. As we yield ourselves to You, we are confident that You will give Yourself to us; through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen.” – Edmond Holt Babbitt (adapted)

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(If you see an ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)

Who Needs My Kindness?

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

KindnessThe fifth fruit of the Holy Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22, is kindness. We know what kindness is, but have we stopped to think about who needs to receive our kindness? Undoubtedly, everybody needs it, but scripture names some specific groups of people in particular need of kindness:

1. My wife. Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them.” Sadly, men tend to come as across harsh with their wives, often without realizing it. The stronger male physique and deeper voice of the male can be intimidating, which is why 1 Peter 3:7 commands, “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature, yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

2. My fellow believers. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another.”

3. The poor. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Kindness to the poor is a loan to the LORD.” Jesus tells a parable of righteous sheep and unrighteous goats, and the distinguishing mark of the sheep is how they show kindness, particularly to the poor. Christ said to the sheep that they were blessed to inherit the kingdom, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink… I was naked and you clothed Me…” (Matthew 25:35-36). In the same passage, Jesus adds three other people groups who need our kindness:

4. Strangers (Matthew 25:35). This is an often overlooked theme of the Old Testament Law, to always show kindness to strangers and foreigners. Deuteronomy 10:19 says, ‘You also must love the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Many Americans who are unkind to immigrants seem to forget that most of our ancestors originally came from another continent.

5. The sick. (Matthew 25:36). The head chaplain at the hospital where I work recently said to the other chaplains, “Guys, remember when you have a bad day, that our worst day is better than the best day of most of our patients.” When people are seriously sick, their worlds are turned upside-down, and their emotions are on edge. How they need our kindness.

6. Prisoners (Matthew 25:36). Most of us find this last group the most difficult to show kindness. After all, if they’re in prison, don’t they deserve their punishment? Probably, but maybe not. However, for Jesus, the issue is not what they deserve, but what they need. All of us deserve punishment for our sin, for we have all broken God’s laws. But we need grace. Let’s show it to those in prison, as well.

Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  The Bible teaches that it is especially the most vulnerable people in society, such as the deaf and blind, the poor, the sick, and those in prison, to whom we should show extra kindness.

So instead of asking who deserves our kindness today, let’s ask, Who needs my kindness today?

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(If you see an ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over the ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)

Wow! I like that surgery!

HospitalEnterCopyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

   As a pastor, I visit people who are in the hospital for all kinds of reasons: surgeries, childbirths, injuries and sickness. I have learned to always knock before entering a hospital room, because one never knows what might be behind that door. Hospital gowns are not designed for fashion or full covering, and I certainly don’t want to invade somebody’s privacy.

   But one man who goes to my church saw something that he never dreamed he would see in a hospital room.

   His wife, who was about 45 years old, went to the hospital for surgery. After a few hours, a nurse came to the waiting room and called the husband’s name. He stood, and she took him by the arm and said, “Come with me. We’re going to see your wife.”

   Imagine his surprise when the nurse opened the door to a recovery room, and he saw a beautiful, 22-year-old blond in a hospital bed. Immediately he said, “Wow! I like that surgery!” Later, the man told me, “I’m just glad the young lady was asleep and didn’t hear the nurse tell her that I was her husband!”

   Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who go through wrong doors.

   Some go through wrong decision doors, rushing into poor choices about important matters such as marrying a spouse or buying a house without stopping to pray for God’s guidance first. Others get sucked into trap doors, as they are enticed into bad habits and unhealthy addictions that leave them feeling like the door was locked behind them and the key thrown away.

   But Jesus said, “I am the door” (John 10:7, 9). He didn’t say it would be easy to enter that door. It requires heart surgery—a changed heart by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for our salvation. But the end result is worth it. If we will enter by His door, we will find abundant life here on earth and eternal life in heaven. Like my church member said, “Wow! I like that surgery!”

 

Keeping your dark secret from your pastor

HidingUnderTheCovers Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Many pastors have come to learn some deep, dark secrets of members that we must take to our graves. But thanks to HIPAA, one of the secrets we used to find out about has been hidden. I’m talking about the real first names of church members.
You see, hospitals list patients by the name that is on their insurance, not by the name their family and friends call them. In the old days, the preacher could look at the list of patients at the information desk, and find out, for example, that John Smith was actually Orville J. Smith. Of course, John didn’t like to use the name “Orville” and would beg the preacher to keep it a secret. Going to visit “Bubba”? No problem, you could just ask for his last name and find him. But then along came HIPAA.

HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a law that protects the privacy of hospital patients and wreaks havoc on the hospital visitation ministry of pastors. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to refuse the release of any information to anybody, including their own pastors. And under HIPAA, anybody inquiring about a patient must give the correct name of the patient– even if the patient doesn’t go by that name.

So now when the preacher goes to the hospital and asks for John Smith, the lady at the information desk looks down at “Orville J. Smith” on her computer screen, and then looks up at the preacher with a smirk and says, “I’m sorry, we don’t have anybody by that name.” The preacher can beg and plead and promise to do a wedding for her family for free, but she will just say, “Have you ever heard of HIPAA? I can’t release that information unless you can give me the correct name.”

I must admit, we preachers had it coming. After all, for years we have abused that privileged information, barging into the hospital room and loudly asking, “How are you feeling Orville?” as John (a.k.a. Orville) hides under his sheets in embarrassment. But no more. Now, only God and your doctor have to know your real first name. That is, unless Orville wants his pastor to come pray before his next knee surgery.

When the pastor found out that Pearly felt just peachy

Sometimes a pastor feels awkward when he is called upon to visit somebody he does not know in the hospital, but it is really embarrassing when he visits somebody that he does know but he does not recognize! That happened to me recently. Let me explain– and I will change the names to protect the innocent.

Our church office received a request to visit Pearly Precious (obviously not her real name!), who was having knee surgery. It was the hospital visitation day of our associate pastor, so he went to make the visit, but the family had left and Pearly was in surgery, so he left his card and departed. I called later and got Pearly’s room and talked to her daughter, who thanked me for calling, and told me she was recovering well from the knee surgery. A couple days later, I was in town, so I went to the hospital to visit.
I knocked on the door, which had her last name, “Precious,” on the door, but when I entered the room, I did not recognize the patient! Confused, I introduced myself, and started to excuse myself, when the daughter said that she remembered talking to me on the phone and thanked me for coming. I looked at Mrs. Pearly, and said, “Sorry I didn’t recognize you at first– your hair is shorter.” After a long pause, the daughter said, “Now tell me, what connection does our family have to your church?”
I said, “Uh, I came to visit Pearly Precious.”
They said, “This is Pearly Precious.”
I said, “I have a Pearly Precious who is a member of First Baptist Church in Rincon.”
They said, “She’s a member of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baxley.”
That’s when we realized the mix-up. There were two women with the same name! So I just went ahead and prayed with the other Pearly and left to call the house of my Pearly. She answered the phone, and I asked how she was doing. She said, “Just fine.” When I told he what happened, she said, “I haven’t been in the hospital in years. But that explains why somebody called and asked about my surgery!”
Psalm 138:8 (HCSB) says, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” If I was a pagan, I would think my perchance visit was purposeless. But the Precious family from Baxley was pleased to have a pastor pray with them, and the Precious family from Rincon was proud that their Pearly felt just peachy. Yes, God has a plan and a purpose for all people, even pastors and patients who don’t plan to pray together. What plan do you perceive He has for you?

(Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers.)