When I was a kid I wanted to be a firefighter to help people in crisis. But I also wondered about spiritual things, like where do we come from and where are we going? Later on, I went to divinity school, where I heard about becoming a hospital chaplain. That appealed to me because you get to be around people from different backgrounds and faiths, and you’re there to help patients and their families when they’re struggling.
Right before I started my residency at NewYork-Presbyterian, I had a close friend who was in a bad bicycle-versus-motor vehicle accident. He ended up in the hospital. I was with him and his family, and there were times when he was awake and couldn’t talk, and I remember how distressing that was for everybody.
I knew when I started my residency at NewYork-Presbyterian that I wanted to be in a similar setting — where I could help people cope with that experience. Or, even if they couldn’t cope with it, just to be with them so they didn’t have to be alone if they didn’t want to be.
When I first started working here, I was assigned to the medical ICU, and part of my ministry was to go door to door to visit each patient. A lot of the patients were awake and alert, but they had a tube in their mouth or in their neck and they couldn’t talk. That was frustrating because I had learned how to provide spiritual care through conversation, and I wasn’t sure how to do that with these people who couldn’t talk. When I saw the large number of people critically ill, on a ventilator, and unable to speak for themselves, I wanted to figure out how to provide spiritual support to them.