Thursday, September 22, 2011

Caring for Caregivers: Hospital Ministry When You Are the Patient

I wanted to say that I am now answering comments with comments of my own; I know a lot of you do this, but I never have before, so I'm trying it out. I like the conversation aspect of it. Also, I wanted to share the hospital philosophy that God has shown me, so I'm sharing (below) an article I wrote about my hospital ministry when I am a patient:

“Please, Lord,” I prayed, “don’t let me so self-absorbed that I miss the people you’ve put me in here to minister to.” I was lying in the emergency room of a local hospital, after having been brought in by ambulance because of chest pain. The doctor had just been in to say they were admitting me, so I knew it was time once again for my hospital ministry.

I have been hospitalized more than the average bear, and like most people who are sick and in pain, I had sometimes felt a sort of “me against them” mentality toward the people upon whom I was completely dependent. But then one time, years ago, the Lord opened my eyes to the needs of the caregivers, and a hospital ministry was born.

Now, whenever I am hospitalized, I ask for God’s help to focus on the nurses, doctors, techs, CNA’s, and anyone else I come in contact with while a patient. I pray that God will give me the words to say to minister to these souls who spend all their days ministering to others. This has completely changed the way I feel when I am hospitalized, benefitting me as well as the people I am there to bless.

Realize that the caregivers are human beings with needs of their own

The caregivers in a hospital are not like personnel in any other business. In the course of their daily jobs, they give so much, doing things for complete strangers that absolutely humbles me, and so often they do it with aching backs and sweet smiles. They give and serve and help and assist, but who is taking care of them? I’ve found that when I focus on them and ask how they are doing, or about their family, or their feelings about their job - they look startled, and then pour out their own particular woes to a sympathetic ear.

I figure it’s the least I can do, considering all they are doing for me, and yet this is not as selfless as it sounds, because like all of the things of God that seem counterintuitive to us when we are being self centered, this strategy actually makes me feel much better. When I take my eyes off me, and fix them on Him, I stop feeling scared, miserable and like a victim whose life is out of her control. Instead, I feel almost like a missionary in a foreign land. Missionaries face danger and uncertainty, let alone inconvenience and discomfort, but they know they have a job to do in service to their Savior, and I  likewise have a job to do in my hospital ministry.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

It is easy when I am frightened and vulnerable to only notice when someone does something wrong. The things that inconvenience me or cause me pain seem to loom large. But when I focus on ministering to the staff at the hospital, I begin to really notice the myriad things they do that also ministers to me.

Once I begin to notice what they do for me, it is easy to feel gratitude for their service. But I make a point to take it further. First, I try to say “thank you” a lot. I also praise them to their superiors if possible. Secondly, I try to offer a friendly smile. And lastly I try to remember to say and not just think the positive things I notice about them.

This time, for instance, I thanked the girl bringing the meal tray for being a bright spot in my day, and then after my meal, which included a superb soup, I wrote a note saying how delicious the soup was, and left it on the tray. When I woke one night to a vision of loveliness in the form of a beautiful young woman, I told her that she was so lovely I thought I had dreamed her. Anyone who was able to draw blood with out causing agony received special praise! Staff in a hospital are used to working with fretful, hurting people, and a little appreciation goes a long way in ministering to them.

Notice the human being, and not just their impact on you.

When I am intent on hospital ministry even though I am the patient, I try to pay attention to whomever looks tired, worried, happy, or anything I can ask about without being intrusive. That way they can tell me what they choose. The next day, when that person comes on duty, I can ask how their sick sister is doing, or whether their birthday party was as much fun as they had anticipated. Sometimes, I ask a family member to bring a little dish of mints or gum that I can offer the staff. Just little kindnesses that lets them know someone cares about them and that they don’t always have to be the servant.

Pray for the people you come in contact with.

When I am lying around in the hospital, I have extra time to pray, and the people I am ministering to are often in need of prayer. Sometimes, I tell them I am praying for them and sometimes not, as I feel led. I don’t always overtly witness, but to paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, I try to always preach the gospel even when I don’t always use words. God leads as to who is open to more, and in our conversations I certainly talk the way I always do, which is full of references to prayer, blessings, God’s care and provision, and all the things I just naturally talk about, but I don’t force it, or expect a response from them. God knows what they need, and I ask Him to provide it. I do make sure to ask Him to let me know if He wants to provide more of an overt witness through me.

Be forgiving and merciful about mistakes.

This one can be the toughest part of a hospital ministry when I am the patient, because sometimes the mistakes cause me a great deal of pain, trouble, inconvenience or discomfort. When they have a hard time remembering to come to my room to help me get on or off a bedpan, for instance, it is very hard to be gracious. When they really hurt me putting in an i.v. or forget to give me my medicine on time, or leave me stranded without my call button in a precarious situation, fear or distress can make me forget that they are busy human beings, not malicious or lazy. This takes practice and prayer, and I’ve found the absolute best thing is to remember that my life and well being are not in their hands, but in God’s Who knows all things including my needs, and will supply them. It’s not out of line to ask Him for help and relief, or endurance, and the Savior Who died on the cross while forgiving those who put Him there gives me the grace I need to serve Him.

I never know when God will call me to my hospital ministry, but every time I am a patient, I know there is a purpose for it, and I try to be a servant of the living God, and “bloom where I’m planted.” This time, along with discovering that a major artery in my heart was 99% blocked and putting a stent in it, I also had another opportunity to engage in a hospital ministry when I was a patient.

Source: personal experience


Anonymous said...

God opened my eyes up too to hospital ministry after I heard a woman say that she had to sit in a doctor's office for two hours after her appointment time. She told the doctor that she was a professional too and that her time was just as valuable as his. I thought it was a bad testimony to the doctor so right then I decided that I would react differently to the doctors. I would try to be a good testimony to them. Consequently, this post resonated with me tonight. thanks for detailing how you do it.

nikkipolani said...

What a great way to look at your hospital stays, Tracie. I love that you've thought through so many aspects of serving/ministering while being dependent on your caregivers.

Merle said...

Dear Tracie ~~ A great post and we all should follow your suggestions.
I used to say Thanks for everything when I was in hospital - the cleaners, the meal providers and of course the doctors and nurses. A lot
of them confided family news, so I was able to inquire next day. Much like what you did.
I am glad you enjoyed the post with the jokes and stories. I hope you are quite well again now. Take care,
Love, Merle.

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