Do you remember when you first learned the truth about Santa Claus? I was ten years-old, and it was around Easter time. My fifth grade teacher asked, “Who believes in the Easter Bunny?” The only hand that raised up was mine. At that point, I realized I had a problem. When I arrived home, I shared the news with my parents. They confirmed my new discovery…the Easter Bunny is not real.
“Okay,” I responded, “I can accept this.”
Several months passed, and Christmas was now approaching. Therefore, I started making my wish list, including an expensive toy which I do not remember at this time.
Looking over my list, my mother commented, “Kristen, I do not think we can buy this one. It is really expensive.”
“That’s okay, Mom,” I remarked, “Santa can bring it.”
“Honey, remember the talk we had about the Easter Bunny?”
“NO!!! NOT SANTA!!!” I shouted. “I bet you’re going to tell me that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real, too!”
While this incident proves to be humorous, it also illustrates what sometimes happens when one’s beliefs are shattered. Similarly, many patients and families enter through our doors with an intense belief for a full recovery or at least one that allows for a good quality of life. As we know, however, in many situations, this proves to be unrealistic, and we must serve as the face of reality and truth, helping and supporting families through their feelings of shock and grief.
When I reflected on my mother’s approach towards giving me the truth as a child, I now realize that she demonstrated three primary ways of how we, in the ICU, provide honest feedback regarding the patient’s medical situation:
- Acknowledging and restating the facts…We discuss the medical diagnosis and condition in very layman’s terms that both the family and patient understands as well as answer any questions that arise, especially after a difficult conversation with the physician.
- Empathetic listening presence…In spite of all the demanding tasks, we strive to offer individualized care and concern for each patient and family member, attempting to comprehend and address their needs and desires.
- Compassionate tone of voice…We make the effort to remain as a calming presence by maintaining a voice that reflects the patient’s and family’s importance.
As a chaplain, I am further privileged to stand in the role of reminding families of God’s ultimate control in medical crises—no matter what decision they make regarding their loved one’s care. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us of this when the Lord states, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This means that, even in the midst of death, the patient has hope by coming face-to-face with the Creator.
Therefore, with this Christmas season now upon us, may we all continue to offer hope to the patients and families in our care through both our actions and words. May we also continue to believe in the Great Physician’s healing intervention—whether earthly or heavenly—at His appropriate time!