Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shrines of Hope

This blog post is based on a recent talk I attended called which is part of a series at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Department of Pastoral Care, Spirituality, Religion & Health Interest Group:

with John Hansen-Flaschen, MD, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

ICU Family Shrines of Hope from John Hansen-Flaschen on Vimeo.

After playing the above video for us, Dr Hansen-Flaschen talked about his concept of working at the MICU as being on a tour of duty in a submarine.  He completely immerses himself in the world of the MICU during his two-week rotation.  The patients, family and staff of the MICU are all he thinks about.  Then he talked about the welcome appearance of the shrines that he shows in the video.  First, his definition.

Shrine: an assembly of specifically chosen items assembled for devotional or reverential purposes. There are both secular and religious shrines - that determination is best left to the viewer.

Shrines of Hope

These are not a commemoration of something that WAS, but hope for recovery or a peaceful passage to a better place.  Shrines in the ICU spring up on their own.  Not memorials but visual prayers of hope and redemption.

We experience life in MICU completely and profoundly specter of death brings focus and solemnity.  Families come and talk, think about the future, they're not "crying all the time."  They are up against the clock.  It's a time for reconciliation, healing old wounds, wrapping things up.

ICU = temple and submarine, rooms are chapels, nurses' station is the altar, MD's are high priests (? the speaker wonders) How do we reconcile the images of submarine and temple?

What makes a place sacred?  There are secular shrines.  MICU is a separate place, it's about the human condition: intensity and profundity.  It's not easy to be distracted in the MICU.

"I ask, 'Tell me about him/her'  - up to that point all the medical interactions have been about 'rescue.'  After this question, Tell me about her, then what comes out is a first draft of an obituary." - Dr.

From here, the talk became a discussion about what experiences of the MICU and/or shrines the audience members had, and how they reconcile the concepts of submarine and temple in the MICU.  The audience was diverse, made up of a lot of Chaplains. 

"MICU not always a sacred space, but sacred space is created by the people in it. "  - Chaplain
"The blessing of tasks to cope with the intensity." - Chaplain
"Nurses making shrines for patients without families that visit. That reduces "ICU Psychosis." - Chaplain
"Help with passing celebration of person.  Power of our attention to the person in the bed at the time of death." - Dr H-F
"MICU affirmation of life, love of family, stories of life, grieving has meaning because of richness of life." Chaplain
"Pieces of home make hospital room feel like home.  Hope for life, place  of home." - Chaplain

This talk gave me a LOT to think about.

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