There are a lot of churches that have parish nurses. It’s a whole specialty, really. I’ve never been in that capacity in any official way. Sure, I’d get questions during coffee hour about this or that child’s skin rash or medication questions. I’d even go so far as to bandage someone after a playground mishap. More recently I’ve spent some time assisting a parishioner’s mother with some after-surgery education and moral support (regarding a new condition). Mostly I’ve tried to keep the church’s first-aid box stocked.
I’ve met a lot of matushki and seminary wives over the years who were in nursing in some way. It got to be kind of a joke actually. Most of the time these people were either working full-time or home with several children so they wouldn’t really have been available for a “parish nurse” position, however unofficially. I’ve been thinking lately about how this role could work – again, even unofficially. Someone who is retired and has older children or no children (at home or otherwise) could do more, but even those who are in positions like those I’ve been in would probably be able to manage something.
In the more formal sense, parish nurses have actually opened clinics at the church (ok, these are mega-churches) or have traveled with elderly parishioners to their doctors’ appointments. On a much smaller scale, you could (like I’ve done) make sure there is a stocked first-aid box. In between there is a lot of room. Here are some ideas:
1. Make it known that you are (or have been) a nurse and are willing to be of assistance if possible.
2. Be willing to provide education about disease, disease prevention, medication, etc. Be careful about crossing the line into “practicing medicine without a license”. Knowing what might be the problem and encouraging someone to head to his doctor is actually pretty helpful. Also, pointing someone in the direction of his pharmacist for medication questions can save lives. I’ve caught some serious drug interactions before they happened. I’ve also sent some people to the ER.
3. If you have the ability, checking on elderly parishioners, those who have had surgery or illnesses, new mothers, etc., can be an invaluable service to offer. You don’t have to be there in the capacity of an official nurse to be able to pick up on something that’s heading in the wrong direction. Also, people trust you when you tell them that they’re progressing normally. Moral support is priceless.
4. Being a resource for your priest (easy if you’re a matushka!) is great too. Many times I’ve sat down and explained disease progression, mechanics of dying, mental illness recognition, etc. to Father. I think he’s found it very helpful. Obviously, he’s never divulged in any way anything he’s heard in confession.
5. Being available in the event of a serious accident or illness is helpful too. Families are usually distraught and appreciate someone they trust being able to help them navigate the medical maze. In this, you can be a great adjunct to the spiritual assistance your priest provides.
I’m sure I’ve left out a lot. I’d love to hear from any other nurses (or people in other medical/nursing fields – didn’t mean to leave you out!) about how they have helped or might be able to help in their parishes.
Update: I’m totally reinventing the wheel! The OCA has an article on parish nursing.
One thought on “Parish Nurses”
Very interesting post. Last year, my husband came straight from a weekend camping trip with “the boys” to church on Sunday morning. He had gashed his leg while chopping wood, and thought he was just fine. He mentioned it after mass, and a doctor fixed him up in a Sunday School room! It was good to have a very male healthcare pro. tell my very male husband, “This is really serious. Stop being macho!!”