Long Distance Pastoral Care
Chaplain Tim Ledbetter, DMin, BCC
(Tim was the Hospital Chaplain from 1994 - 2006. He wrote the story below during that time.)
As Kadlec Medical Center’s Chaplain, I respond to the trauma code with the rest of the team. My usual job is to find and connect with family, and support them through the initial phases of the situation until the patient leaves the Emergency Department. As the team worked smoothly yet aggressively to stabilize the badly injured patient, I attempted to notify next of kin. It was not easy. To make a long story short, our patient’s parents, were at that time, in two different distant parts of the country on business and tending to family business. However, due to the blessing of cell phones, contact was possible.
The parents of our patient received from me, the chaplain, that phone call that fills all parents with trepidation, that their child was critically injured in an accident…and they were several thousand miles away and apart. Thus began an eight-hour conversation of regular updates by cell phone as their child fought for life and they struggled to arrange flights.
Supporting families as they cope with sudden tragedies is part of the ministry of the hospital chaplain. Usually it is done at the bedside of their injured loved one, or in a nearby waiting room. In this case, the pastoral care took place over the airwaves as I informed, comforted and coached the helpless and frustrated parents traveling in far-off states. At one point later that day, as the father was driving straight through across the northern states, he thanked me for “being our life-line”—a comment echoed later by the mother. Twice we wept together over the phone in mutual anxiety and dread. While professionals are expected to not let personal issues cloud the picture, this chaplain happened to have children of the same age, and had a personal sense of the parents’ defenselessness.
After numerous hours of frantic efforts to stabilize the patient, the patient was finally stable enough to transfer to the state’s highest trauma center. The parents re-routed their travel directly to Seattle. The ending was a mixed story. Sadly, the patient did not survive the extensive injuries and died in Seattle. The parents arrived in time to be with their child during the final hours and then graciously elected to donate all possible organs and tissues. The patient’s heart was too damaged and so was unable to be shared. The family felt that in some ironic and meaningful way, his (physical, emotional and spiritual) heart was reserved for them.
Several days later, the family returned for the first of two memorial services. Warm, earnest thanks were offered to me by the parents as we finally met after hours of phone contacts. Again they stated gratefully that having a hospital chaplain had been their lifeline to their son…a bridge over their troubled waters. And so it was that I was given the honor of officiating at the local memorial service, where many heart-felt tributes were offered and a vibrant young adult was blessed and released to the Great Author of Life after 22 years of zestful living, loving, working and enjoying God’s great outdoors. May this child rest in peace and may the family find God’s refreshing balm for their souls which burn with their great loss.