The Rev. Matthew Rhodes, director of religious ministries, and Samuel Yenn-Batah, manager of pastoral care who also happens to be a talented saxophonist, provided poignant words and music to set the stage for an event held July 10 in the Healing Garden at Princeton Medical Center (PMC) honoring staff and patients affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many faith traditions make a place for both lament and celebration, Rhodes noted, and that would give structure to the day’s gathering. He offered two observations about healthcare workers: First, they are predisposed to be better at tending to the wounds of others than acknowledging their own. Second, they are better at recognizing the efforts of their colleagues than accepting the praise they deserve.
“Spoiler alert, we’re not going to allow you to shrug off the deep gratitude that so many of us have for what you have done,” Rhodes told the Princeton Health staffers gathered in the Healing Garden.
The guest speaker, Lisa Martucci-Thibault, built on that theme. She named every nurse, aide, physician, and staff member she could remember and thanked them for making her visits easier and helping to lessen her mother’s suffering. Her mother, Ruth Ann Martucci, was among the patients who died at Princeton Medical Center as a result of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“While I consider it a gift to have been with my Mom during this awful journey, it hurt to watch her suffer,” Martucci-Thibault said. “Therefore I can’t imagine what it has been like for the caregivers, day after day, witnessing this suffering and knowing that many of their patients would not dance out of the hospital to Here Comes the Sun. But they did not stop coming to work and they never stopped caring. They kept at it, doing all they could to mitigate suffering and provide steady reassurance. That is heroism.”
The midpoint of the program featured a release of butterflies, a symbol of hope and new life. Rhodes followed by recounting a story about Philip Tran, RN, the stroke program coordinator at PMC. A former critical care nurse, Tran was among the many nurses, physicians, technicians, and other staff members who signed on to work in the CCU and PACU, caring for the most critically ill patients, at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.
While working in the CCU, Tran bonded with the family of a particular patient— a first responder from New York City who had been infected on the job early in the pandemic. When the family made the difficult decision to have their loved one extubated, they were not allowed to be there in person. Tran set up an iPad to connect them virtually, and then, at the family’s request, he sat with the man until he took his last breaths.
“It was no small irony that Phil had risked his life to show up to care for this patient and others,” Rhodes said. “Many of you have risked your life caring for complete strangers as well.”
Later, Martucci-Thibault shared the story of her mother’s final days at PMC.
“Even when I was the only visitor in the entire hospital — as most visits were prohibited during April — I never felt alone,” she said. “There was always someone there, from the nursing staff to security, providing caring eye contact, encouraging words and most importantly, a smile under their mask. In his novella, Bridge over San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder wrote: ‘There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.’ The compassion of this hospital’s staff was my bridge through loss to the start of healing. Thank you.”