December 26, 2001 - Charleston Gazette : RPCV serves as Chaplain to help heal souls at hospital

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RPCV serves as Chaplain to help heal souls at hospital

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RPCV serves as Chaplain to help heal souls at hospital

Dec 26, 2001 - Charleston Gazette Author(s): Peyton Whitely

SEATTLE - On a wall in a room at Harborview Medical Center are photographs of a smiling young woman, clowning with three of her best friends.

A few feet away, a young woman covered with bruises and bandages lies in a critical-care bed. Medical equipment is inserted into her body. Her eyes are closed. A breathing tube leads into her mouth.

The happy woman in the photographs and the suffering woman in the bed are one and the same. Her name is Kellie Cosner, and on Nov. 24, as she and her husband of just one year were driving in Mount Rainier National Park, a hemlock tree snapped and crashed onto their car, killing him and leaving her in serious condition.

It's to reconcile the differences between the two images - the woman in the photos and the woman in the bed - that another woman becomes involved.

Her name is Martha Lindley.

She's Harborview's first chaplaincy resident, a role that recognizes enduring trauma involves much more than physical injuries - that the human spirit is an intrinsic part of life and survival.

"It's about reminding people in that time that there is a creator, or a spirit, that's with them even in the midst of all their suffering, and that they're not alone," said Lindley.

While that may sound much like a message that organized religions have been providing for thousands of years, Lindley's solace has been a long time coming to Harborview.

While a hospital has stood atop First Hill for decades, as recently as 1993 a provision of the state Constitution forbade having a staff chaplain at public hospitals, citing the separation of church and state. The emotional or spiritual needs of patients experiencing the worst imaginable trauma were met by a staff of volunteer chaplains.

Then the law was changed and in 1997, the Rev. Nancy Chambers was hired to set up a clinical-pastoral-education program. A dozen chaplain interns now are in training at the hospital, learning how to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of patients and staff.

Lindley was hired for the $23,700-a-year position of resident chaplain in June, the latest in a series of roles in her life that have been guided by what she describes as "spiritual discernment."

Those steps started in Rochester, N.Y., where her father worked for Eastman Kodak. They led to college at Purdue University, service in the Peace Corps in Venezuela, a law degree from the University of Puget Sound and 15 years work as an attorney. Yet something was missing.

"I knew for a while I should be doing chaplaincy, but I tried to ignore it," said Lindley.

By last year, she knew she could ignore it no longer.

"I knew I was supposed to be with people who were suffering," said Lindley, who is studying to become an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

Defining her role at Harborview is difficult, she said. As much as anything, it involves listening, helping people find meaning through the telling of their experiences.

The job also involves penetrating some of the impersonal, factory- like aspects of medical care, where there's talk of someone expiring, like a parking meter, when the accurate phrase is "the D word" - death, said Chambers.

"It's another level of communication, other than, 'We are the doctors,'" said Lindley. "When I am with a patient and they're about to withdraw life support, that's an honor. It's important for people to know there is someone who cares."

While such concepts are unquestionably laudable, it's patients such as Cosner and her family who make them a reality.

Cosner, 26, who suffered head and chest injuries and a broken leg when the tree fell, is sedated. While she appears to be conscious, she is incommunicative, and it's not clear whether she realizes her husband Jason, who was also 26, is dead. "From the look in her eyes, I would say she does," said Lindley.

For her parents, Ed and Debbie Hobin, of Brooksville, Fla., the freak accident meant being awakened at 3 a.m., a numbing flight to Seattle, and arriving at a hospital they'd never seen before.

Almost instantly, they met Lindley. And now, though they've known each other only a short time, they consider themselves the closest of friends, bonded by experiences most people never share.

"I immediately gravitated to you," Debbie Hobin told Lindley as she talked of what they've gone through. "I needed to talk to somebody who is knowledgeable and who I could trust, and that was you."

To Lindley, that's the way things are supposed to be.

"That's how I believe I use the word 'God,'" said Lindley. "It was God's will I was here.

Lindley notes that doctors and nurses continually dealing with death also need emotional and spiritual support. On many occasions, she's been outside a room, praying, while they worked inside. Later, they thank her.

"Spiritual care is recognized as a critical part of healing," Lindley said.

Harborview intends to develop the chaplaincy program further, perhaps adding other chaplains with areas of specialization, such as helping burn victims, mental-health patients or emergency-care patients. One hope is that a model could emerge for other trauma centers to use in meeting the spiritual needs of patients.

"I really feel honored to be on this journey. To me, it's a gift," Lindley said.

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