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More Spiritual Care of Patients

April 15, AD2014 3 Comments


God gives us all opportunities to be a witness to Him, but Dr. Victor Ajluni wrote a wonderful column illustrating the sacredness of the places our healing professions allow us to go. If you haven’t read it yet, please do yourself a favor and do so.

When I returned to the level- 3 neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after a time working in level 2, I went to a preterm delivery as an orientee. I was supposed to be no more than an observer. The OB physician was a wonderful Catholic woman who didn’t feel comfortable bringing her faith to her work.

The baby was born alive but at a previable (unquestionably unsurviveable) gestational age. Every doctor and nurse in the room knew it at first glance but the patient and her mother didn’t. There was a chill silence that was broken when the grandma yelled, \”What are you going to do?\”

It was clear she expected us to whisk the baby to the NICU where we would use technology to save him. She had to be told that he was too premature for that. Then I spoke up, \”Do you want the baby baptized?\”

The grandma looked at me incredulously, as if her mind were spinning between thoughts of medical interventions to thoughts of care for this baby facing death. Then she said, “Yes, were Catholic.” I looked to the mom for confirmation and asked if the baby boy had a name.

They were anxious, unsure how to answer, so I interrupted and assured them it was okay if they didn’t know it yet. I got the water and performed the Baptism. “Precious little one whose name is known only to your Creator, I Baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The staff looked as if they felt awkward, like they were suddenly and unexpectedly reconsidering the fact that they did not offer Baptism.

Was I wrong to offer to do it? Or were they wrong to not?

I understand that in the past, nurses were taught to baptize babies in distress as routine care. I have heard stories which indicate that this practice was probably excessive and sometimes done against parents wishes (not good form), but rather than fixing what was broken, the pendulum swung far the other direction until nurses were taught nothing about Baptism and, thus never to consider it in the course of care.

It’s important to know that many hospitals have well developed pastoral care departments and a chaplain or priest should be called for a ritual if there is time; but if death is imminent, it is important for a nurse or family member to be able to perform the Sacrament. In the last two months I have done one emergency Baptism myself and brought a Spanish speaking priest into an operating room to do a Baptism and Confirmation of a set of twins moments after C-section delivery, with a Protestant chaplain on hand to do the Baptism if the priest didn’t get there in time.

As a way of bringing the subject up without claiming the ability to predict death with certain accuracy, I say, “Is Baptism something you are interested in?” The conversation flows from there. There were a few other nurses at the time who endeavored to offer Baptism in appropriate circumstances, and we as a group have been able to teach the wider group how it could and should considered as a component of care.

More subtle ways to serve God in how we care for the sick present themselves in a myriad of ways for everyone from surgeons to the lady who brings the food tray.

The intensity of birth, death, sickness, suffering, and healing highlight the wonderful opportunities to serve that my colleagues and I have every day—and hope we don’t squander. I am aware of these situations because this is my work vocation, but once you begin to consider the many ways that humans serve each other you can see that sacredness is present in so many places—a kind bus driver (my brother-in-law is a great example), a committed teacher, an encouraging coach, an honest mechanic, a gentle dentist, but perhaps mostly, a devoted parent.

The doctor I spoke of in my story? We have become friends and encourage each other as professionals, mothers, and Catholics.

Let us work. Let us work a lot and work well, without forgetting that prayer is our best weapon. That is why I will never tire of repeating that we have to be contemplative souls in the midst of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer.” Saint Josemaria Escrivasta

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Tammy Ruiz Ziegler has been a Nurse for 30 years and spent most of her career in Neonatal Intensive Care. For 10 years, she has been a Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator - caring for women and families suffering miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death and SIDS. Part of her work involves assisting parents in preparing for births when the baby has received the diagnosis of a life limiting condition (often called "Perinatal Hospice"). In addition to her Nursing education, she studied (but did not become certified in) Clinical Pastoral Education at a Catholic Hospital in the midwest. She has been on EWTN and speaks regularly to Physicians & Nurses on the topic of perinatal loss care. Her work has been translated into Polish, Spanish, Czech, French, Italian & Japanese. Her career was both fragmented and enhanced by having 14 different jobs because of moves for her husband who was an active duty Officer in the USMC. She has 3 quasi-adult children and one super-cute grandchild. A convert to the Catholic Church, she was widowed after 26 years of marriage but recently married a man she met when they were both children.

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