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ER--The Spiritual Crisis
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It may be the torn family of a teenager after a suicide attempt, a new widow who just said good-bye to her husband of fifty years, or an abuse victim presenting special challenges the physical world of medicine cannot heal. Suddenly, emergency care providers, adept in a fast paced environment, dealing with complicated procedures, are at a loss.
Since the nurse often has established a relationship of trust with the patient or family member, that person often looks to that nurse for comfort during a spiritual crisis. Meeting that challenge can be more important than cleaning up the physical wounds. Yet, not everyone is equipped to deal with the spiritual aspects of health care.
Before helping others, a person must develop a sense of his or her own spiritual self. It is difficult, if not impossible, to minister to others unless an individual has a personal relationship with God and has a firm set of values from which to draw from.
Then, there is the need to listen. That means stop all the little busy tasks, which calm the nurse’s own anxieties and focus full attention on what the individual perceives as the problem. Often, that perception differs greatly from the nurse’s view of the situation.
If the process gets this far, it is often stopped by two words I hear frequently from colleagues, clergy, and friends--”I understand.” In essence what is being said is “I know what you are feeling. You don’t have to tell me.” After dealing with death in my own family, my response is, “No you don’t understand.” Even if a person has been through a similar experience, it is impossible to completely understand another’s pain. A phrase such as, “This is a difficult time for you” acknowledges the grief and opens the door for communication.
We must allow people to grieve and not try and talk them out of their grief. Statements beginning with “at least” or “it could have been worse” are not only insensitive but often add to the distress of the person in crisis.
A friend of mine lost her baby after being pregnant for seven months. I sent a sympathy card acknowledging her loss, stating that nothing can be worse for a parent to deal with. She wrote back thanking me, relating that I was the first person that really understood her pain. She was frustrated by comments like, “At least you didn’t get to know your baby and then lose her.” When a person is at a loss for words, a short phrase like “accept my sympathy” can be helpful and caring.
Trying to help a person during a spiritual crisis is challenging. It is important to tap into the only true source of strength--God. Sometimes a prayer, such as the Our Father, will help link the grieving person with the comfort and stability of the familiar when the world seems to be falling apart. Remembering different people’s needs are met in different ways, it is important to ask for the person’s approval before proceeding with a prayer.
When faced with the question, “Why did God do this to me?” health care workers frequently find themselves at a loss for words. The honest answer is, “I don’t know.” It is important to follow with an assurance that although we do not always understand why things happen, God still listens and cares.
If it is determined that the clergy would be helpful in a situation, it is important to find out what the person seeking help wants. The hospital chaplain may not be well received if the grieving person is anticipating a Catholic priest. When the clergy member arrives, it is important for the health care worker to communicate the situation and any special requests the grieving person may have. I urge any ministers of the sick to seek out the health care worker if the nurse is not readily at hand on arrival. It helps assure that needs are better met. It also saves the person in crisis from having to go ever “the whole story” again unless he or she feels it is helpful.
Many of these situations are not limited to an emergency department of a hospital. We are all called to witness in our daily lives, not stuff God in our back pockets after Sunday services. It is everyone’s greatest challenge.
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