On point: When danger threatens, opportunity knocks
by Woody Spackman
|As I write these reflections, I am watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and Jekyll Island. The sound of gentle waves creates a rhythmic cascade that refreshes both body and soul. At the same time, I am aware that in a few short months, a season of crisis may emerge. Winds may pick up, the gentle surf growing mighty and destructive, a hurricane approaching on the horizon.|
as the relaxing atmosphere of the barrier islands can change in a moment,
so too can our lives when accident, stroke, or aneurism descend on us
or on someone we love. Like a hurricane, sudden illness or accident inevitably
presents a crisis for both patient and family. Hospitalization brings
with it a loss of control as families are thrown into an environment with
unknown equipment, strangers, different sights and smells. In this uncomfortable
scenario, people confront mortality. Will they live or die? If they live,
how will their quality of life be affected? The family system—shorn
of regular habits and daily constructs—tilts. Long-held differences,
conflicts, and fears emerge.
|Although the research literature suggests that patients improve faster with the presence of family, I wonder about the other dangers and opportunities that emerge in the midst of the storm.|
patients improve faster with the presence of family, I wonder about the
other dangers and opportunities that emerge in the midst of the storm. From
a pastoral care perspective, I would like to suggest a few to watch and
1. Will the constant presence of family in the hospital suite enrich or strain the family relationships?
2. Will healing be celebrated differently when both the family and the patient experience the same processes?
3. What will happen to the trusting relationships between family and the medical team as the families observe the possibility of human error and the debate of appropriate treatment?
4. Will treatment, especially invasive treatment, increase awareness among families of the reality and futility of continuing life-saving measures when the patient is too far gone? Or, conversely, will the families’ front-row seats to the crisis reinforce denial and unrealistic hope?
5. Will the building of community between families grow, as it has in the past in a common waiting room, or will it decrease becaue of the separation of family units in individual suites?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I do know that we need to seek those answers.
At Emory, we have a great opportunity to change how we give medical care with the family-centered approach and the new supporting facilities. However, it will take more than a new environment and approach to promote healing and enable coping. We must intentionally create a support network of pastoral care, social services, and patient advocacy as well as develop structured opportunities for families to share what they are experiencing, deeply and personally, for the first time. The Department of Pastoral Services has allocated the resources of pastoral care and staff to support just such an endeavor.
I look forward to the opportunity of what we will experience, learn, and be able to do for individual patients, their families, and the medical experience in general. I am likewise aware of the danger of releasing the winds and rain of change.
Woody Spackman, MDiv., is director of Pastoral Care at Emory Healthcare.