Sisters help patients heal body and soul
Rehab hospital is unique
By Henrieta Paukov
Sister Amy holds the elevator door for a woman in a wheelchair. “How are you today?” she asks. “Good,” says the patient cheerfully. “It’s good to be up and about.” Like all patients at St. John’s Rehab Hospital in north Toronto, this woman is here to heal. For her and for many patients, Sr. Amy and three other sisters from the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, located next door to the hospital, are part of that healing journey.
St. John’s Rehab, which was founded by the Sisterhood in 1937 and administered by them until 1996, is the only hospital in Ontario dedicated solely to specialized rehabilitation. Patients come here to recover from amputations, traumatic injuries, burn injuries, organ transplants, cardiovascular surgery and cancer. Each patient’s rehabilitation program addresses the whole person, including the emotional and spiritual aspects.
That’s where the sisters come in, as spiritual care providers with a multi-faith approach. Trying to recover without addressing one’s spiritual needs is “like trying to recover without a piece of you,” says Sr. Amy, who is the Coordinator of Spiritual Care. “People know they have to get better physically, but rehabilitation affects your spiritual life as well. For instance, with many people on the trauma and burn floor, where I work, the question ‘Why?’ comes up a lot.” The sisters are there to listen and offer hope and encouragement, on the patient’s own terms. “The patients are the directors, they tell you where they want to go,” says Sr. Amy.
The sisters who do this ministry—Srs. Amy, Debra, Beryl, and Dorothy—are in the hospital every day from Tuesday to Sunday and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They meet every patient who comes into the hospital, regardless of religion. “We go to meet them to see what we can provide for them,” says Sr. Amy. “We can connect them with their particular faith visitors, or we can let their church know that they are here. If they don’t have family close by, we can do their laundry and help them with their daily needs.”
Each sister is assigned to a floor of the hospital. Sr. Amy’s unit has 37 beds, and she says hello to every patient on her morning rounds, as she hands out the Metro newspaper. During the rest of the day, she might have meetings—she is a member of several hospital committees—or she might see one or two of her patients. “I am in and out of the hospital throughout the day,” she explains. “In addition to my work here, I’m also at the convent, doing our common schedule.”
Most patients enjoy the attention they receive from the sisters, says Sr. Amy. “Many people, especially the older patients, have been told by their friends and family that the sisters will be coming in to see them and to look for us. And sometimes they have been here before and they are waiting for our visit. Very rarely do I get anybody who does not want to see me, and that initial reaction is just because they see I’m in my habit or they hear I am a sister and they think I want to convert them. I explain to them that it’s about where they are. I’m not here to convert them to any particular religion or promote anything. I’m here to address their spiritual side, whatever that means to them, so that their healing journey is complete.”
The patients are not the only ones who benefit from the sisters’ ministry. The rehabilitation professionals and administrative staff who work at the hospital also value the sisters’ work, says Marcus Staviss, the hospital’s Director of Strategic Communications. For instance, he points out, the sisters provided much-needed support when the hospital started its oncology rehabilitation program. Until then, staff had been used to having patients come in, get better and go home to move on with their lives. “With cancer, it’s a lot messier than that,” explains Mr. Staviss. “In many cases, it’s about giving the patient some comfort and quality of life and returning them back to good functioning so that they can return home and live out their days. Staff were not used to that and there was a lot of fear and concern that they were not necessarily the best equipped to give patients hope, which is a big part of recovery. The sisters played a huge role in helping staff understand their role in the patients’ recovery and supporting them through that.”
The benefits flow the other way as well. Sr. Amy considers herself privileged to be able to work with the patients and staff at St. John’s Rehab. “They all impact my life in some way,” she says. She recalls a patient who came in with a hip replacement and later had to have a revision done. “I was lucky enough that she came onto my floor four times,” she says. “She was a very chipper person, and she never got down about the fact that she had to come back four times. She taught me so much, to persevere and to keep going. Actually, I just saw her when she was here for outpatient treatment. That’s the best part, to see them come back and to see them walking. It’s just amazing.”
This article was originally published in the November 2011 issue of The Anglican.