This past Tuesday night, the call rang in around 10 p.m., informing me, “… was in a motorcycle accident last week. She’s at…hospital now with multiple injuries and very little responsiveness.” This was the first notice her church family had received from her relatives. This same friend and I had just been out the night before the accident, celebrating and sharing dinner with a couple of other friends. In a state of shock, I thought to myself, “I need to get to the hospital. How is she really?”
As a chaplain of the ICU, I believed I was fully prepared for the sight. I was familiar with ventilators, intubation, monitors, IVs, neck braces, restraints, etc. However, upon arriving to the hospital and entering my friend’s room, the tears began forming, and I choked up. Though I recognized the outer shell, there laid a woman whom I did not know. The carefree woman with a gorgeous smile and wise insights onto life was not present. Along with prayer, I attempted to connect through physical touch and encouraging, comforting words with this restless patient who had a dazed look in her eyes.
While I had some knowledge of what to expect during the visit, what do families whom have never experienced this feel and think during those initial moments? They may endure a multitude of emotions, including fear, grief, anger, and anxiety. The questions that race through their brain may be endless. “What happened?” “Will he be okay?” “What are all the machines for?” “Why is she not talking to me?” “Will there be anymore surgeries?” “How long will he be in the ICU or even in the hospital?” “What will it take for her to recover?” Some individuals may not even know what to ask.
During this encounter and then while updating others on our friend’s condition, I became keenly aware that we as associates can greatly influence others’ first encounters with their loved ones here in the ICU. We have the privilege of offering medical interventions to the patients while learning about their personalities, values, beliefs, and life stories through our encounters with their visitors. We can further lessen the impact that the interruptions of the medical world inflict upon the relationships by encouraging the visitors to read favorite passages, sing songs, speak words of hope and encouragement, and even just touch the patient. Thus, we as associates are the bridges between the medical and the general societies, closing the gaps between the two worlds and stimulating the relationships to continue in a unique fashion.