On August 16, the Boston Medical Center nurses on the Newton Pavilion celebrated their long, rich history as they prepare for the closing of the Pavilion in October, when they will move to the expanded Menino Pavilion next door. The Newton Pavilion was the former University Hospital, and in 1996 merged with the Boston City Hospital to become Boston Medical Center, comprised of the Newton and Menino campuses. The Newton Pavilion has been home for many years for hundreds of nurses. Thus the August 16 event marking the closing of their workplace was a sad as well as a celebratory occasion.
The speakers included Kate Walsh, President & CEO of Boston Medical Center, Nancy Gaden, Chief Nursing Officer and Karen Kirby, former Chief Nursing Officer of University Hospital.
Having been hospital chaplain at University Hospital and then the Newton Pavilion from 1992 to 2011, I was invited to give the Blessing at the event, called “Celebrating Nursing at Boston Medical Center: Past, Present and Future.” Following is the Blessing I presented.
I’m honored to be giving today’s blessing for you, the nurses of Boston Medical Center’s Newton Pavilion. Actually, I have been blessed to have been hospital chaplain at University Hospital and then at BMC’s Newton Pavilion for over 18 years, from 1992 to 2011 – and another five years of per diem work. And it is your blessings that greatly assisted my chaplaincy work with patients over the years – as you have also blessed and enabled the chaplaincies of Drs. Sam Lowe and Jennie Gould, Sr. Mary Ann Ruzzo, Fr. Roger Bourgea, Fr. Ray Bonoit, Sr. Claire Hayes, Rabbi Paul Levinson, Imam Salih Yucel, Rev. Les Potter, and others, and their devoted pastoral care volunteers.
There are also the countless blessings you have provided for patients and their families from all walks of life. Based on my work with you, I want to recall just a few of the blessings you nurses have bestowed on patients and their loved ones.
On one occasion, a daughter, who was diabetic, came to visit her mother in the old MICU on 6N. Unable to eat anything before she arrived at the hospital and feeling somewhat ill, the daughter asked me if there were a place on the Unit where she could make toast for herself. I said I’d go ask her mother’s nurse. Without a moment’s hesitation, the nurse replied, “I’ll make it for her. What does she want on it?” That’s exceptional care without exception.
After MICU on 6N moved to 8 North, I visited a 42-year-old man there who was withdrawing from alcohol and preoccupied with finding his laptop computer. He would sit up, pull on the restraint that was keeping him from falling out of bed, point across the room as if his computer might be there. In the midst of this preoccupation, he said he did not know where he was. I responded that he was at Boston Medical Center. His pre-occupation and confusion led me to tell him that I would share his concern with his nurse.
His nurse was just outside the room, and overheard our conversation. When I told her of his pre-occupation with his computer, she replied, “So that‘s the latest thing he’s obsessed about. He has a lot of things like that on his mind,” adding, “He’s withdrawing from alcohol and doesn’t know where he is at.” She then said, “I’m waiting for the valium I gave him to hit him so I can relax.”
The nurse then said, with a smile, “Could you say a prayer for me? I need it.” I smiled in return and replied, “Sure. May you have a good day. And may all that is loving bless you very much.” “Thank you. I needed that,” she said smiling. She then said, “When the patient’s mother and father come to see him, I will ask them about the computer.” It was great to see that nurse again today.
More blessings. I visited a dying mother in SICU and her family of two daughters and two sons, all four adults. I was with them for an extended period of time, together with their nurse. The one daughter thanked the nurse and me for “hanging in there” with them. You could tell how closely the family had bonded with the nurse by the way the daughter said her name, “Carline.” You could also tell by the way Carline responded.
As we sat around this dying mother’s bedside, her daughters and sons began to reminisce about her being a school teacher, and, at different ages, she was each one’s classroom teacher when they were children. They mused about having their mother as their school teacher: saying how difficult it was to feign sickness or play hooky. Who would write their excuse? Who would read it? Loving memories shared with a nurse who had become like family.
A final blessing to recall. Do you remember Rose? A woman in her eighties. For Rose, the Newton Pavilion cafeteria was about family. Her mother died at Boston Medical Center many years earlier, which evidently led her to keep coming back to the place where she last saw her mother alive. Instead of the cemetery, she visited BMC’s familiar cafeteria, filled with the living. She adopted BMC staff as her family – whether we wanted to be adopted or not.
Every day at lunchtime, Rose would sit at the same table in this cafeteria. She played the role of hostess: making the rounds and greeting various staff, straightening the chairs under the tables, refilling the napkin holders and plastic containers.
Rose was very outgoing. And underneath was a sensitive and caring woman, looking for and finding a family – at noon each day, here, in this cafeteria, before going home to be alone.
Rose’s need and Boston Medical Center’s inclusive mission are perceptively captured in a birthday card a wise nurse gave to her, which Rose proudly showed to others and to my wife, Eva, and me. The nurse wished Rose a happy birthday, wrote that she was a very special person, and ended her note with, “Thank you for taking care of us.” What a blessing for Rose.
The Newton Pavilion has been a second home, an extended family. You nurses have made it so for each other and for many others of us staff and patients. So there is sadness here as we face the closing of the Newton Pavilion. Sadness born of years of sharing with each other and caring for patients. Sadness also in recalling, with gratitude and love, the nurses, no longer living, with whom you shared your work and your lives.
As the closing of the Newton Pavilion nears, its halls, once busy with routine, will become hallowed – filled with your precious memories. And, across the street, there are other halls and rooms filled with patients who will need your nursing expertise and caring. Halls that will also become hallowed by your presence, skills and empathy.
Halls and rooms with all kinds of patients, which reveal that the hospital is a crossroads of humanity, a global neighborhood – populated by patients -- and staff -- of various beliefs, nationalities, races and sexual orientations. In the hospital, there is the diversity of divinity, and the divinity of diversity, and the commonality of humanity. And you nurses are the ambassadors of exceptional caregiving without exception.
You have provided untold blessings. May all that is loving bless all of you very much.
Dr. William Alberts is an emeritus member of the Concord Chapter of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. He is author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. The book is available on Amazon.com. He also is a regular contributor to Counterpunch. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.