A tribute through tender final moments

Bellingham | December 8, 2017

As a staff chaplain, Andrea Zikakis often sees heartwarming and heart-wrenching moments in her work at PeaceHealth hospitals in northwest Washington. She was so moved by a situation that unfolded at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham that she wrote the following tribute — to a loving family that lost its matriarch — and to her fellow caregivers who tenderly cared for them through it all:

Recently, I was paged to a patient’s room. She lay in bed surrounded by three generations of her family, including her husband, daughter, grandson and 7-year-old great granddaughter. Conversation was sweet. I was learning about our patient: her marriage, her mothering, her influence as a grandmother and a great grandmother.

I heard how deeply loved she was and how extravagantly she loved. It was easy to see how cherished she was and how much her life impacted those around her.

After hearing about her, the conversation switched. I learned about her entry into the hospital via ambulance. Her husband noticed something wasn’t right and dialed the dreaded and life-saving numbers 9-1-1.

She was rushed to our hospital, admitted immediately, and within a very short timeframe, the family learned their beloved had an inoperable brain bleed. The family was telling me the story in hushed tones and sacred speech.

They told me that their emergency care was the best possible, specifically mentioning a few caregivers by name:  Johnathan Nguyen, MD; Ward Naviaux, MD; Jennifer Engelhart, RN; and Jeff Packer, chaplain. All were spoken of with great respect and gratefulness.

The family understood that their matriarch would never recover and yet, they knew that she was being treated with utmost care, competency and consideration.

After the family digested the difficult news, the patient was transferred to a medical care unit where, once again, the family spoke of their experience in terms like "tender and compassionate care.”

They appreciated the way they and their loved one were cared for. Their eyes were misty as they spoke, each family member contributing to the tribute. The husband said that each day Martha Gillham, MD, a hospitalist, entered their room, he knew she was listening to understand and then after fully hearing, she would provide her recommendations. He was grateful for her skills and her heart.

I share this story because it was shared with me, after the death of this beloved family member. And I tell this story because so often, we — as caregivers — have a unique part in a story, often never realizing how our thread of care helped cradle the patient and their family in love and support.

Sometimes, we cannot cure, but we are always invited to help heal; even in or after death. May we never forget that we make a difference, each and every day.