These Caregivers Helped Patients, Families Through Illness And Death

07 Aug 2017

For 25 years, the Rev. Noel Hickie, 74, and Marcia Hilton, 70, helped families during their most trying moments.

Hickie was working as a hospital chaplain and Hilton as a bereavement counselor when the two met at a hospital in Eugene, Ore. The pair often worked together on hospice teams, helping patients and their families through illness and death.

You spent decades of your lives doing this work, have you ever doubted that you really want to do it?

Hickie:  At the beginning, I thought that I would never want to be around sick people.

Hilton: I hadn’t spent much time in hospitals before this work, and I also had the same doubt at the beginning.

I had never seen blood hanging on an IV pole. Just the hubbub of a hospital was really frightening to me … and I can remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”

But did you eventually find your place?

Nickie: O certainly I did. Though I recall that my role was misunderstood at times. I remember, years ago one of the nurses asked me to go out and talk to a patient.  I said, ‘What am I supposed to talk to her about?’  The nurse told him that the patient was afraid, so maybe I could ‘take her fear away’.

I said, ‘You know if I could do that I wouldn’t be working here, I would be the richest man in the world.

And do you remember your first counselling situations?

Hilton: Of course I do. I went to the intensive care unit, where a young man died from a gunshot wound after his best friend accidentally shot him.

I remember getting on that elevator, o my knees were just knocking.  I walk into this room where the family is gathered and there must have been 25 people in there. The mother was in the corner, rocking back and forth and moaning, and siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, the young man who had shot his friend. I remember sitting there having absolutely no idea what I had to offer.

I wonder what way out of that situation you still managed to find?

Hilton:  Well, I sat with the family in the room for at least half an hour before finally asking, ‘I didn’t know Jim. Could you tell me about him?

The whole conversation started around the room of people sharing reminiscences about this young man. It was just a miraculous transformation, what happened in that room. I was OK. They were OK. They would be OK. And I think that was part of when things happened for me and my realization that maybe I could do this work.’


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