Support and Comfort Freely Given
Rev. Aidan Lacy tries to ease the burden of patients and their families
Rev. Aidan Lacy, Former Director of Pastoral Care, St. Mary’s Medical Center
Understanding the patient perspective
Like many of our staff members, The Rev. Aidan Lacy, former Director of Pastoral Care, first encountered St. Mary’s Medical Center on a personal level rather than a professional one. His mother spent her last six months in a hospital in Ireland, and Fr. Aidan spent a lot of time by her side.
The priest became a member of St. Mary's Medical Center's Pastoral Care department, where his perspective from the patient side of the hospital experience has proved to be invaluable during his 10-year tenure.
"Because Mum’s was a long-term illness, I was basically in a hospital setting for six months, but I was on the other side," Fr. Aidan says. "I realized the need that was there. You know, it’s one thing to go in and visit someone for 15 minutes and pray with them. It’s quite another if that patient is here three weeks, four weeks, six months at a time. And because we're a trauma unit, we have a lot of those kinds of patients."
Theirs is a very different journey from patients who are treated in the emergency room or who go home a few days after surgery. With long-term care patients, there are more people to consider than just the patient. "It's a roller coaster. With a 3-year-old, for instance, if the patient is having a good day, the family is having a good day," Fr. Aidan says. "And if she’s not, then the family is not."
Families often have to make difficult decisions about their loved ones; sometimes, they need spiritual guidance to get there. "We ask people to make a medical decision. What I realized very quickly was I am making a decision that has medical consequences, but I am not making a medical decision. I'm making an emotional decision, I'm making a fate decision, I’m making a rational decision. Therefore, how you approach the medical issues is different."
The emotion of such situations can create conflict. Families are thinking about one facet of a decision while the medical team may be considering another. “They’re not speaking the same language; they’re overlapping, but it’s a very different way of looking at the world,” Fr. Aidan said. He and the pastoral care staff can help resolve those situations, acting as a buffer or go-between in emotionally-charged situations.
"How you approach sickness and death is shaped by your own experiences," Fr. Aidan notes. "If you’re Buddhist, for example, and you believe in reincarnation, your approach is very different from a Judeo-Christian approach, because you’ll see death as part of a cycle."
Fr. Aidan takes into account how individuals approach these monumental decisions that sometimes must be made about loved ones. "You have to have the conversation, but you have to have the psychological, spiritual and cognitive journey with them. That’s what I learned with my own experiences, with my own family," he says.
"And when I came back here, that’s what I wanted to be involved in."
Fr. Aidan often encounters situations that present ethical dilemmas for those involved: conflicting views on organ donation, post-mortem sperm donation, representing an indigent patient who has no one to speak for them. He finds the work both fascinating and rewarding, and appreciates the compassion that the entire staff displays each day.
"We haven’t lost our heart," he says. "I have seen our staff come running in here at 2:30 in the morning. I've seen them stick their hand in their pocket to make sure that a patient gets home. One of the worst days I ever had with a patient was one of my best days as a professional because of the compassion of the team at St. Mary's."
Fr. Aidan and the medical team were in a room with a young child who had been brutally abused and suffering from chemical burns, when officials informed them they may have come into contact with dangerously toxic substances while caring for the child. Officials asked if anyone present wanted to leave the room to undergo a decontamination process.
"These were all people with spouses and families who had children of their own," Lacy says, "and not one person stepped away. That's why I love this place."