web analytics
May 3, 2015 / 14 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


The Ins And Outs Of Visiting The Sick: An Interview With Hospital Chaplain Rabbi Simeon Schreiber

.

Some people are naturals at visiting people in the hospital. Others feel awkward: What should I say? How long should I stay? Does the person even want me to come?

Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, senior staff chaplain at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida, has just written a book, A Caring Presence: Bringing the Gift of Hope, Comfort and Courage, addressing some of these common concerns based on his 10 years of chaplaincy experience.

Although obviously a regular visitor to hospitals, Rabbi Schreiber found himself in a hospital last month in an unusual position – as a patient undergoing open-heart surgery. “Thank God,” he told The Jewish Press two weeks after the operation, “the surgery was successful and everything is good.” In addition to making a complete recovery, Rabbi Schreiber said he hopes his recent experience as a patient will make him even more sensitive to the needs of the hospital-bound.

The Jewish Press: When and why did you enter the chaplaincy?

I’ve been a chaplain for about 10 years. I first started thinking about becoming a chaplain when my son, who is now in his 40s, developed Hodgkin’s disease. It was very sudden. He was actually in Israel and expected to go into the army. Then he got this notice from the army that something was wrong and they subsequently told him he has lymphoma.

I brought him back to the States about two or three days after that for a full year of tests, operations and chemo. Thank God he managed to pull through and is flourishing right now with a wife and three children in Kansas City. But I think that got me started on the concept of trying to take care of people.

In the book you state that most of the advice you offer is common sense. If so, why is the book necessary?

People are not so familiar with common sense sometimes. For example, if you would ask me what my pet peeve is, it’s people not calling before they come to visit someone. People forget that bikur cholim is not about the visitor but the person you’re visiting. And that person sometimes just doesn’t want to be visited.

To wit, when I was in the hospital recently I just did not want visitors – and people have to respect that. I had someone show up at 11 o’clock at night; he just walked into my room. I had a central line in my neck with three tubes showing out, and this person just showed up, “Hi, I’m here,” and I wasn’t very happy.

You write in the book that one shouldn’t joke around with patients or talk about matters irrelevant to their condition. But don’t jokes sometimes cheer a person up, distracting him from his sickness?

I think what you say is true. You have to assess the patient. What I write in the book is not hewn in stone. They are flexible ideas.

Many people, though, assume bikur cholim is about telling jokes. But that’s not what the patient really wants. It’s not a comedy session. The key to proper hospital visitation is really listening to the patient. It’s not necessarily doing all the talking. It’s about allowing the patients to talk about what’s bothering them. Talking about what went on and maybe the fears or concerns they had – there’s a cathartic kind of response to that that makes them feel better.

That’s not to say that visitors can never crack a joke or talk about something that’s off the subject. Of course they can. It’s dialogue between people. But I don’t think that should be the main focus.

You also argue in the book that people should never promise a patient that things will get better. Do you find that many people do that?

People want to fix the situation. They come there with the idea that when they leave, the person is going to be 100 percent better. What I’ve come to learn, however – and I think it’s probably the most frustrating part of being a chaplain – is that I cannot change what is. I can’t make a 90-year-old man 50, and I can’t get rid of terminal cancer.

The best we can do in situations like that is just allow the person to talk about their situation in the hope that things will be okay in terms of living with what they have. That’s a role visitors have to understand as well. Their job is not to change things. It’s about being – the title of the book says it all – it’s about being a caring presence. It’s just to be there with them in their time of need, and to hold their hand. For them to know that someone cares is really the most critical thing you can do in chaplaincy.

You write, though, that it’s important to leave a patient with hope.

Exactly. You always leave with the idea of hope. I have a patient right now dying of pancreatic cancer. But I never go on statistics. I had cancer myself eight years ago. I say to patients: I want you to know you’re looking at someone who had cancer, and here I am talking to you. You always have to have hope because the truth of the matter is we really don’t know. There are stories every day where people who you think are going to die just don’t. We’re not God. So although you don’t promise, you do give them hope.

You’ve been a chaplain for a decade now. What are some of the more interesting things you’ve experienced?

I write about one of them in the book. When I was a chaplain in Hackensack University Medical Center before moving to Florida, a young lady came over to me and said her mother had been in a very serious accident – she was hit by a car going 80 miles an hour – and asked if I would mind visiting her.

When I came into the room I saw a very seriously ill woman. I spoke to her for just a few minutes – I didn’t want to tax her – and at the end I said, “May I say a prayer for you?” She said yes, and I said, “What is it that I can pray for?” She said her dog Buttercup had died two weeks ago, and she’s concerned that the dog is not being fed or walked properly in heaven. Would I please pray for Buttercup?

Well, I went to Yeshiva University and studied under Rav Soloveitchik, but I never learned how to pray for a dog. Nonetheless, I created a prayer that God should take care of Buttercup in heaven, He should make sure that he has friends, that he’s walked daily, that he’s fed properly and that he will be very well taken care of. When I finished I saw that the woman’s face completely changed. She was relieved that I had prayed for her dog.

So it’s important to ask what patients want you to pray for because if you make the wrong assumption, you may end up saying a prayer that has nothing to do with what they really want.

Of course, there may be those who say, “I don’t want any prayer,” and you accept that as well. I’m not there to force prayer or my religious beliefs on you. The idea is to be present with the individual and allow them to know there’s someone in the world that cares about them, is listening to them, and will try to help them through their situation.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Ins And Outs Of Visiting The Sick: An Interview With Hospital Chaplain Rabbi Simeon Schreiber”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Hundreds of Israeli-Ethiopians clash with police in a protest in Jerusalem against  police brutality and alleged racism.
Hundreds of Israeli Ethiopians Protest in Tel Aviv, Block Ayalon Highway
Latest Sections Stories
blintze_cake

“DouxMatok’s technology will allow for a reduction of 30-60 percent of sugar in a product, depending on the application, and with no effect on taste.”

Schonfeld-logo1

How do we ensure that our students aren’t studying for the grade or the end-of-the-year pizza party? How can we get them to truly want to learn for learning’s sake?

Kupfer-On-Our-Own-NEW

The message being conveyed is that without “flour,” without the means to support oneself and one’s family, one’s focus on Torah will be impeded by worry.

Someone close to us knew that you were good at saving marriages and begged us to give therapy one last chance,

Rabbi Pinni Dunner and Holocaust survivor Heddy Orden.

He wrote a strong defense of shechitah in which he maintained that the Jewish method of slaughter had a humanitarian influence on the Jewish people.

New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will be the keynote speaker at the Westchester Government Relations Legislative Breakfast on Friday, May 8, at 7:45 am at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison.  The annual event, which brings together important elected officials and the Westchester Jewish community, is sponsored jointly by UJA-Federation of New York […]

“Like other collaborative members, we embarked on this journey as an opportunity to build on New York leadership’s long commitment to expand and diversify opportunities for Jewish teen engagement,” says Melanie Schneider, senior planning executive with UJA-Federation of New York’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal

The poetry slam required entrants to compose original poetry with powerful imagery and energetic rhythm bringing their poems to life – making it palpable to the audience.

“I was so inspired by the beautiful lessons I learned and by the holiness around me that I just couldn’t stop writing songs!” she says.

But Pi Day is worst of all
I want the extra credit bad
But trying to remember many numbers
makes me sad.

Several thousand Eastern European Jews had escaped Nazi death and Soviet persecution by fleeing to Shanghai, China.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Dr. Michael Berenbaum

Why do Jews, then, sometimes feel more intensely about Polish anti-Semitism than they do about German anti-Semitism?

Dr. Mitchell Bard

Mitchell Bard is nothing if not prolific. He has written and edited 23 books, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East” and “The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East.” Bard, who has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, is also the executive director of both the […]

You have to understand that Ukraine was really a very, very Jewish place for many years.

What I think is going on here is the Midrash is making a comment about Rut’s love for Naomi being some sort of reflection of how we have to love God.

HarperCollins’s omission was especially egregious because it is a major general and educational publisher.

I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”

Nouril concluded he had no choice: He had to become more observant.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/health/the-ins-and-outs-of-visiting-the-sick-an-interview-with-hospital-chaplain-rabbi-simeon-schreiber/2011/12/21/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: