Sacred Stories

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Catholic Health has more than 8,000 dedicated associates, who uphold the mission to reveal the healing love of Jesus to those in need. Recognizing that healing can take on many forms, dedicated hospital chaplains work every day to minister to the spiritual needs of patients and families. They share their sacred stories of hope and healing to help others who may be suffering physically and spiritually.

Yvonne Askew, MSN.Ed., RN

Out with the old and in with the new! God continues to bless the ministries under Catholic Health’s Faith Community Nurse (CHFCN) program with an ever increasing circle of influence with their congregations and community.

Dealing with issues effecting the community, these churches have led the way in end of life conversation, drug overdose/Narcan education, and disease management awareness. With Catholic Health providing speakers, support, and referrals - individual lives are touched for the better.

Attrition, as with any volunteer program, has effected CHFCN program. From rethinking their health ministry and a Faith Community Nurse (FCN) resignation, other devout communities are initiating answering their “call” with this ministry. Just as Jesus’s ministry touched “just one” soul at a time, so will this ministry continue to touch “just one” church at a time!

The Faith Community Nurse Program (FCNP) continues introducing its ministry concept to Faith Communities within WNY and Erie County. Again, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches – Buffalo District Conference requested information on this ministry concept and allotted time for a presentation, which led to a church initiating their ministry. With the inclusion of Niagara County’s Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital to the Catholic Health System, the FCNP is attempting to touch those faith communities in Niagara County. This ministry also continues its collaboration with Faith Community Nurse Coordinator’s across the country, for support and discussion of best practices.

Yvonne Askew, MSN.Ed., RN
Faith Community Nurse
FCN Program Coordinator - Mission Integration

Camille Buckley

I once read a book entitled Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole Le Blanc. As the title indicates it is an intense portrait of lives filled with drugs, abuse, violence, incarcerations, dysfunctional families etc. It was so wild I almost found it hard to believe. It certainly was not a part of my own experience. Now I know the book was real!

One Sunday morning I was called to the Emergency Department for a Code 10. The patient had attempted suicide and was revived...at least his heart was revived.

As the story unfolded, I learned that he had posted a suicide note on Facebook that morning and a close friend saw it. She in turn notified his mother who found him unresponsive and pulseless. Emergency responders were able to revive him to the extent that he had a heartbeat and blood pressure. Now he was in our ED on life support.

Eventually his mom arrived very distraught as one might imagine. Her appearance revealed a life fraught with physical and perhaps psychological and emotional challenges. As the morning wore on, she shared her story about her own very poor health, death of her seven siblings from cancer, suicide of her husband at a young age, prior incarceration of this son while her other son is currently in prison, and more.

The patient's “baby mom” arrived. By “coincidence”, she had been at work here at the hospital (through an agency) and heard the Code 10 called and felt immediately she knew who it was for. Their son who is 6 yrs. old was at home with family. She had a quiet strength although very tearful and emotional she was realistic in her expectations for a good outcome.

The neuro intensivists and Nurse Practitioner examined the patient to evaluate his status. They performed many tests to evaluate his brain function. During this time the “family” remained in the patient’s room. I chose to remain as a quiet, calm presence in this emotionally charged situation. The patient’s mom was alternating between, tears, anger and blame.

At one point I quickly left for a few moments to get some Care Notes for the “family”. I picked two which dealt with how to tell a child about the death of his parent. They were colorful and meant for a child to see.

I arrived in our office and was immediately paged back to the ER. On arriving the neuro- intensivists said to me “I was the one who paged you. They really need you now. The news was not good”. I was appreciative of the fact that he recognized that spiritual support was much needed and that he took initiative to request it.

The mom shared that her other son was currently incarcerated locally and she wanted him to come in to see his brother before he died. This began a LONG series of phone calls trying to get a human rather than a recording. Frustration set in with phone multiple options, "push "1" for...push "2" for ...all on a Sunday morning when much of the working world had a day off. At one point a woman did answer at one of the phone numbers from the many attempts and put me through to the lieutenant at the correctional facility. He who was familiar with both brothers and also knew one of the other chaplains here! Synchronicity! The news, however, was not good as there had to be permission from a higher authority and transportation arrangements made which could not be done on a Sunday. Time was of the essence in this situation as he could be dead in hours. .

The patient's mom also requested a visit from her Orthodox Church priests. A call was placed and the promise was made that they would arrive that day. Unfortunately, when they did arrive the patient was being transferred to ICU and then admitted there. This is generally a lengthy process and they did not stay.

When my shift ended it seemed that all did not go as hoped. I had to trust that all would be resolved that evening and it would all be over soon, however, this was not to be the case.

The pt. was in ICU on Monday morning. I spoke with the “baby mom’ and she told me how she brought the child to the ICU to see his dad. She felt it was particularly important as the patient had promised the night before to see his son that day and now would not be there. She brought home the Care Notes and the child asked that she read them to him. She told me the plans she made to help him though this time.

Back in the unit, the report was passed on that the patient's brother was coming to visit from jail...but was he? Or, was it that passed on to the hospital staff because I tried to initiate it Sunday? The catch was that I told the Lieutenant at the correctional facility that the patient would probably die in hours. Was the message passed on to the Monday crew so they could make the arrangements? No one knew for sure. That began another set of endless phone calls only to find out that the phones were not functioning at the facility and so there could be no contact. The end??

The priest was called again and this time two of them came to be with the patient's mom and to pray the Orthodox prayers over the patient. By afternoon the word came that the prisoner would arrive. He did, in his orange uniform and shackles on both wrists and ankles, escorted by two Correctional Officers (COs). He was walked slowly to the bedside where he said his farewell and cried inconsolably. After a few minutes, I asked the COs if I could go in the room and offer some prayer perhaps. They agreed. The prisoner asked me about heaven, told me some of his story and concerns. He asked many questions of me. I answered, supported and suggested he might talk with the correctional facility’s chaplain. By that time the UNYTS nurse and nurse manager who had entered the room were able to support him as well. Having been a volunteer in several prisons over the past 10 years, I was acutely aware of repeated stories by the men and women about how they were not able to be at the bedside of a dying relative. They have shared their suffering because of this. This motivated me to make sure this did not happen in this instance.

The next morning the pt.’s room was empty as the body, still expertly kept “alive” by the nurse and doctors, was on the operating room for the "harvest" of organs. "Harvest" in the usual sense of the word is gathering the fruits of our labor, from the soil, bushes and trees, to provide nourishment to our bodies. Perhaps this word was intentionally used as this body, although it had experienced many "droughts", was still able to provide new life to others.

This is a sacred story because of the humanness and goodness of all who were present. For me it shows hope.

It was about the mother who though suffering her own illnesses and addictions wanted her incarcerated son to "be with" his brother as he lay dying.

It was about the incarcerated brother, though imprisoned for his crimes, still poured out his grief with a multitude of tears as he stood by his brother with his shackled arms and legs, his humanity very evident.

It was about him still having human dignity and being invited to touch his dying brother's hand, to reconnect skin to skin, give him a kiss. It was about being offered tissues to dry his so human tears.

It was about the ED nurse who cared for the patient and family and gently shared what she could about his condition.

It was about the compassionate UNYTS nurse who rode the waves of the patient's mom's unpredictable emotions and quick changes from calm to anger with her own peaceful, compassionate presence.

It was about the doctor who recognized that the family needed something he was unable to provide and his call for spiritual help.

It was about the new ICU nurse who broke down into compassionate, tears of deep connection and understanding as she watched the brother's anguish as he said "good-bye" and "I love you". She was affirmed for showing her own humanity.

It was about the nurse manager who calmly attended to organizing and overseeing the patient's, family's and staff needs.

It was about the nursing staff that tended to this patient and enabled all that had to be done to his body in order to bring life to many even in this tragedy through his promise of organ donation 10 yrs. before.

It was about the caring, compassion, non-judgmental attitude of all within the midst of the messiness of broken lives and death. It was about the man who had lived with the patient's mom for 26 years and left her for another woman, who came to the hospital and was at her side to support despite their past.

It was about the synchronicity of my schedule change two months ago so as to work Sun, Mon (and Tues) in an effort to meet our patient’s and family’s needs (whoever they may be and no matter their past) with some consistency.

It was about goodness and hope and life in the midst of dysfunction, addiction, crime and broken relationships.

It is a sacred story.

Camille Buckley
BCC Mercy Hospital

Sister Donna Lord

Chaplains are called to minister to people in many kinds of tragic situations. In healthcare we are often called for sudden, unexpected deaths. Perhaps the most poignant case ever for me was the time I was called to the ER because the paramedics were bringing in a three-year-old girl who drowned in the bathtub.

She was barely clinging to life. The child’s single mom came in with her head down and kept her head down the whole time I was with her, a nurse who had herself lost a child and was trained as a grief counselor helped, too. Together, we accompanied the Mom through the time of waiting for the staff to revive the child and send her to Children’s Hospital.

A few days later I went to Children’s and visited the Mom. She looked at me as I reintroduced myself and said, “I wouldn’t know your face but I remember your voice. You helped me through that terrible time in ER.”

After life support was withdrawn and the child died, I continued to visit the Mom in her home through her time of grieving. She also participated in a grief group and gradually worked her way through the grief and began to find new life. Last I heard, she was engaged to be married. She not only loved her fiancé but loved his large family, especially his Mom.

Her grief was as resolved as it could be, she had found someone to love, they planned to have children, and I no longer heard from her after that. We helped her through her time of grief and loss, and she was able to find healing and peace, and be ready to love again.

Sister Donna Lord
Chaplain
Mercy Hospital of Buffalo Sister Donna Lord, Chaplain, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo

Joseph Mazzawi

After a long extended stay at our intensive care unit, the staff was preparing patient x for discharge to a short term care facility. The patient was discouraged however because the only clothes that the patient had to be discharged in were their pajamas. This is because the patient was admitted to the hospital in the middle of the night. The patient did not have any additional clothes with them and had major reservations about being transferred in their pajamas.

The nurses and Chaplain Jonathan Moran were able to accommodate this situation by utilizing the Catherine’s Closet resources. Catherine’s Closet is a clothing closet that had been established from donated clothing by staff, for patients who may be in need of some clothing items upon discharge. It is also a resource that is occasionally used by associates who may be in need as well. In this closet, the care givers of patient x, were able to find a few articles of clothing that pleasantly surprised patient x. By addressing this need and the desire of patient x, the patient was more prepared and ready for their discharge from the hospital.

Joseph Mazzawi
VP Mission Integration
Kenmore Mercy Hospital

Daniel Brockhan

Michael (not his real name), came into the hospital with medical problems he first experienced as a child. Now in his forties, he is seeing them resurface. Through the course of our visits, Michael admitted that his medical issues were a consequence of years of drug and alcohol abuse.

Michael has a girlfriend who is supportive, as well as a family who stands behind him. While he has been drug-free for years, he is just one month sober after previous years of going without alcohol.

Though he has faith, Michael says he has not been to church in a while, but knows it is something he needs to do as he thinks about his life during this time. Throughout the course of our visits, we spoke about his dependency on drugs and alcohol as a way to escape and deal with anxiety and stress. Michael wants to pursue productive ways of dealing with life; yet admits his default is to turn back to drinking.

We also talked about forgiveness. He asked me to pray that God and others forgive him. He tells me he feels that perhaps God is punishing him and I ask if he feels he deserves to be punished. At this thought, he cries and says part of him does, for all the things he did in the past.

I speak to him, stating that there are consequences for our actions, but God’s arms are always open, waiting for Michael to come back fully from the life he once lived. While he defines himself by his past, God offers him a better future – one with goodness and meaning. This doesn’t mean he won’t face other medical consequences from his past abuse, but it does mean he can live better moving forward.

Michael is emotional during our visits, shedding tears for all those past missteps in his life; but part of me cannot help thinking he also sheds tears that, after all the things he has done, God would still love someone like him.

During our last visit, Michael was more peaceful and doing better as he prepared to go home. We talked multiple times about his past, his resources, and options that can help him get better. He knows in his mind what he needs to do, but it remains his choice if he will pursue the right course for his life.

We prayed together and I asked for strength, wisdom and perseverance for him during this time. Before leaving, I said another personal prayer by myself, that God may help Michael put actions to his thoughts and words; and that he may finally be free of the past that so easily entangles him and is so hard to leave behind.

Daniel Brockhan
Chaplain
Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus

Janet Schachner

So often we only hear complaints about patient care, and often these complaints are the result of treatment outcomes which don’t match the family’s expectations or hopes despite our best professional care. I want to share what was said at a recent wake for a 24 year old young woman who had come to our hospital as a code 10 the week prior.

I was the chaplain who was on call the night Sue (name changed for privacy) arrived at Mercy and was blessed to be part of the team which supported Sue’s parents and other family members as they tried to absorb and understand the reality of the serious nature of Sue’s illness. Sue then moved to the ICU where another team supported the family until her death.

At Sue’s wake her parents expressed their profound gratitude for the care Sue received at Mercy. Not only did they praise the medical staff for doing everything possible to help her, but they also specifically shared their appreciation for the professional and caring way in which Sue and their entire family were treated in the ED and ICU especially during the delicate time of deciding about organ donation. At the wake many members of her family shared they are finding consolation and peace in knowing that Sue’s gift of organ donation is enabling many people to receive the gift of health and life.

This family’s expression of gratitude during this most difficult time for them is a blessing for our entire Mercy and Catholic Health family.

Janet Schachner
Chaplin
Mercy Hospital of Buffalo

MaryAnn Grande, RN

MaryAnn was on duty and welcomed my daughter, son-in-law and my granddaughter, who had passed away a few hours before while still in the womb. My daughter was now being admitted for delivery.

MaryAnn was compassionate, caring, understanding and was there for us and anything we could possibly want or need.

Empathy is an understatement. From the moment my daughter went into labor MaryAnn was right there as the delivery progressed we all knew what the outcome was going to be and my daughter was treated with such love and kindness as we all were. In the end as the physicians placed baby Layla on my daughters chest and the tears began to flow from her so did the tears of MaryAnn and the physician team present…you couldn’t ask for more compassion than that.

As a daughter of a nurse and I know what to look for in good nursing care, MaryAnn is at the top of the list. I watched her as she drew blood and how she prepared my daughter of her IV and the care she took in inserting it. Sisters Hospital should have ten more like her. So please recognize MaryAnn and all who took such great care of my daughter during this most difficult and unexpected time.

MaryAnn Grande, RN
Labor & Delivery
Sister's Hosptial