Grandma Mary had beautiful, soft hands. Her graceful fingers had often touched Cha-nel No.5 to her neck. Now, however, Mary lay silently in her bed as her body followed its natural process of leaving this life. An ICU nurse acquainted with death, Brooke did what came easily to her. She combed Mary’s hair, adjusted her sheets, and moistened her lips, attending to details that expressed compassion. Then she found herself alone with Mary for two more hours. At first bored, Brooke frequently checked the time for when her aunt would return and take up vigil. Eventually, she relinquished the com-fortable practice of caregiving tasks and settled into stillness. Brooke became present with Mary. As she sensed her connection to her grandma, memories and tears sur-faced together. Brooke observed Mary’s room, noticing her carefully chosen cosmetics, her jewelry, and her family genealogy album. What originally felt like a burden of lonely time, Brooke’s visit was transformed into a silent sacred exchange between two gener-ations of women. Just hours after Brooke held her grandma’s silken hands, Mary left behind her 94 years in the flesh for another life experience. To this day, the fragrance of Chanel No.5 feels like a hug from grandma.
Brooke is Director of the ICU at St. Mark’s Hospital.
St. Mark’s Hospital Chaplain Saundra Shanti wanted to connect patients to their caregivers and employees to each other. That’s why she created the Healing Hands portrait series, featuring black and white photographs and stories of St. Mark’s employees at all levels.
“Our patients and families who go in and out know that this is a nurse, and this is a housekeeper, but they don’t know them as people,” Saundra said. “I wanted to humanize our healthcare community to one another and to our families and patients.”
Each photo is accompanied by a story; some biographical, others are anecdotes of experiences that led employees to become caregivers and healthcare professionals. Twelve portraits are currently displayed throughout the hospital, but a total of 36 photos will be rotated throughout the exhibit for the next two months.
By highlighting personal, inspiring and real stories about the staff who will be caring for patients during what can often be an emotional time, the exhibit builds a sense of community. Patients and families will be able to view caregivers as real people with real stories whom they can relate to and connect with, making the hospital experience more personal.
“When we humanize each other, we care more for one another,” Saundra said. “I wanted our employees to be recognized as valuable human beings apart from their professional titles. I wanted to cultivate interaction and respect across our departments and services.”