When a Family’s Faith in Healing Collides with a Busy Hospital Unit’s Pressures

Illustration by McClain Moore for AJN/all rights reserved.

What happens when a family of strong religious faith is determined to continue praying for a young father’s healing even after he dies of a terminal brain tumor in the MICU? The room is needed for other patients; a nursing student and her preceptor cared for the patient during his final hours of life and are now expected to provide postmortem care.

It’s a tricky, somewhat tense situation, and initial reactions among the nurses in the hospital vary. Melody Sumter, the author of this month’s Reflections  (“A Place for Faith: My First Experience of Cultural Competence in Nursing“), was the nursing student assigned to the patient, who left behind a young wife and 10-month-old child.

Looking back on the event, Sumter recalls her competing sympathies at the time, and the way she was gratified to learn that the nursing staff at last found a way to honor the wishes of the patient’s family and also see to their responsibilities to other patients. Writes Sumter:

Seeing this family practice their faith was encouraging for a young nursing student like myself—as was the nursing staff’s acceptance and support of a belief that most of them didn’t understand.

The author is herself a person of strong faith. She draws a reader quickly into the events and conveys the situation’s intensity with vivid details and a balanced perspective. Every reader will read the story differently. For Sumter, the experience was ultimately reassuring, helping her see that her work as a nurse and her own personal faith need not be at odds.

(In a separate post published last week on this blog, Sumter provides another angle on the role of religious faith in her life as a nurse, this time bringing to bear her years struggling with a sometimes debilitating chronic illness, her efforts to return to work as a bedside nurse, and the insights she gained about what it’s like to be a patient.)

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

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