Hospital Chaplain: Being there for patients and staff

Jan Hoffman in the NYTimes details the days and nights of a hospital chaplain in Offering Comfort to the Sick and Blessings to Their Healers. Chaplain Margaret Muncie responds to the spiritual needs of patients and staff. Not a stranger to suffering herself, Muncie offers support, strength and prayers to all who ask. Some excerpts from the article:

At 1 p.m. on a weekday, the emergency department at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Upper Manhattan is in full cry, with bays crowded, patients on stretchers lining the hallways, and paramedics bringing in more sick people. Time for the Rev. Margaret A. Muncie to work the floor.

Not shy, this pastor with the clerical collar, the Ann Taylor blazer and the cheerful insistence of one whose own mother called her a steamroller. Among the first women ordained an Episcopal priest and a self-described “Caucasian minority,” she’s an odd bird among the ethnically diverse staff and especially the patients, most of them black or Latino. But she keeps pecking her head behind curtains, parting gatherings of worried family members, impervious to startled looks of suspicion.

“Hi, I’m Peggy Muncie, a hospital chaplain,” she says. “Would you like a visit?”…

The chaplain is also expected to minister to the hospital staff. As Chaplain Muncie, 59, makes her way throughout St. Luke’s with a painstaking limp, she chats easily with doctors and nurses. She has sat with an intern who sobbed uncontrollably after pronouncing her first death and prayed with a ward clerk whose mother was in intensive care.

Every year, the chaplain performs a Blessing of the Hands. She wheels a cart adorned with a tablecloth, flowers, a bowl and an MP3 player. Surgeons, nurses, aides crowd around as she dips their hands in water, blessing their healing work. …

Her core belief about healing, says Chaplain Muncie, is animated by Psalm 121: My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth — spirit and body; faith and medicine. In 1996, doctors found a benign tumor in her brain the size of a tennis ball. The day after it was removed, she had a stroke. Her right side became paralyzed.

“I was frightened and mad,” she says, over a hasty salad. “But mostly I worried about my husband and daughters: What about them?”

So many people prayed for her. She was not allowed to abandon hope, not through the years of pain and physical therapy that reduced the paralysis to a lurching limp, thanks to a device she was recently fitted for — “an electronic doohickey, my own little miracle.”

She hitches up a pants-leg to show off the gadget, a neurostimulator. “I walk faster now,” she says. “I’m the kick-butt chaplain.” The experience deeply informs her ministry. “In Scripture it says, ‘Get up from your bed and walk, your faith has made you well,’ ” she continues.

“Well doesn’t mean perfect. But wholeness and healing can happen, even when there is still brokenness on the outside,” she adds, tears spilling. “I’m more whole now than 12 years ago. But I still walk a little funny.”

Read it all here

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