Spiritual Care at Stanford Hospital
by Serena Salomon, LDP Volunteer

For around five years I’ve been a spiritual care volunteer at Stanford Hospital.  I’m in the interfaith group which means I see all those patients who state that they have no religious preference, as well as some small denominations who have no volunteer representative of their faith group.
By choice I work with some of the sickest patients:  oncology, surgery, and bone marrow transplant.  I do this for a variety of reasons.  It is very easy for me to be with people who are very sick without getting hung up on their disease.  When I walk into a room, almost my entire focus is on the patient.  I am there to listen to them, love them, and respond as appropriate.  I have found to my great gratitude that whenever something arises in my mind as a response, I am able to take a pause and intuit whether or not this is a helpful thing to say.  I am very comfortable with silence, and on a few occasions, with the person’s permission, we have sat together in silence.  I have been asked many times whether I carry these visits out with me.  I do not, and I think this is the case because each visit is complete when I leave the room.

I almost never make suggestions, but on occasion, when it seems important to do so, and with permission, I do.

There are many visits that are “one-offs”;   I never see them again (and they can be pretty amazing as well).   Since I have no time constraint, they can go on for an hour or more if this is working for the patient.

But, one of the joys of oncology and bone marrow transplant is that patients tend to stay for a long time … some  over a period of months.  There was one man whom I saw over a period of many months; I had made a good connection with both him and his wife.  I visited him throughout a long period in his healing when he was not communicating very much.  The connection was still there:  mutual energy, feeling, and appreciation.

Because of HIPAA these friendships could not continue beyond the hospital setting.

I began this work, however, in the early 90s — pre-HIPAA.  One patient whom I saw was in the oncology unit and was coming in for periodic treatment.  I met his family, his companion, and friends. One evening I came by and he was in a double room with a man whom he had known over the course of his treatment. The only word that I can think of to describe the feeling in the room is “radiant.”  As I sat with the two of them, I experienced healing in myself.  I will never forget this, both the visit itself and the connection among us all.  Over the course of our visits I watched him patch things up with his daughter; she and I made a good connection as well.

Ultimately he ran out of treatment options at Stanford; his companion was unable to be with him in her home since she had only recently attended her mother’s dying and was too overwhelmed to take care of him.  Fortunately he was able to stay at the VA Hospice, where I visited him and where he ultimately died.

I went to his Memorial Service and spoke about our friendship.  I cannot remember exactly what I said, but I knew I had something to share that was different from friends and family.  As I write this now, some tears come, calm energy coursing through my body, warmth in the heart.  He lives in my heart, and I am so grateful.

Serena Salomon
Living/Dying Project Volunteer