Healing touch: Chaplains offer blessing of the hands to healthcare heroes




“May your hands, your minds and your hearts be blessed for all the care you provide, and may the patients, families and team members on this unit and in this hospital be blessed through your care.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

At a time when so much is being asked of our heroes on the front lines of medical care, it’s good to remember that they sometimes need a healing touch themselves.

In this case, that healing touch is being offered in the form of a special blessing of the hands.

Jessica Gorka, a nurse in the stem cell unit at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, knew that she and her fellow nurses could use a little more support during a time of heightened anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

Riley chaplain Joshua Coolman pours water onto fellow nurses

Riley chaplain Joshua Coolman suggested the blessing, so after a mid-day team huddle recently, nurses came forward one by one, seeking to be encouraged as they faced challenges in the days ahead.

After reciting the Prayer for Our Hands, Coolman invited each team member to come forward individually and, with personal contact restrictions in mind, poured water from one bowl over their hands, letting the water fall freely into another bowl.

“As they came forward, I said their name and asked that their hands would be blessed and that others would be blessed through their care,” he said.

Coolman repeated the blessing ceremony this week for team members in the hematology-oncology unit on the fifth floor.

The blessing “was enough for us all to smile and have a little lift in our spirits during this difficult time,” Gorka said. “He is amazing and so very caring. I have noticed a lot more people supporting one another now. Stress levels are up and at this point we are all just trying to hold one another up.”

Riley Children's Health members group up for blessings from Coolman

Coolman said he’s been impressed by all of the clinical staff who have come together for the common good.

“Right now at Riley, there’s been some anxiousness because team members have had to switch locations and cover different areas, but for the most part the morale has been good. This has brought people together.”

As a chaplain, Coolman acknowledged that it’s a little challenging to do his job now because of the precautions in place.

“I want to be available, and at the same time I want to be cautious. I don’t want to bring anything into the hospital or take anything back home from the hospital.”

He is offering to do more phone conversations and giving information about spiritual care to nurses who have patients in isolation, just letting the patients and their families know that he is available.

“We’re not going into isolation rooms right now in order to preserve those gowns, gloves and masks that the doctors and nurses need,” he said, “unless there is a definite need to go into the room.”

One such occasion arose recently when a patient’s mother requested that her child be baptized.

Professional headshot of Coolman

“It was important to her, knowing the course of treatment her child was going through,” he said.

Because of visitor restrictions, the rest of the family couldn’t be in the room for the baptism, but Coolman worked with a child life specialist to FaceTime the baptism live on a tablet with other family members watching from home.

“So they could watch and be there, without being there,” said Coolman, who has been encouraging phone conversations and video chats for families to stay connected even while they’re not able to be together physically.

As IU Health first responders continue to provide high-quality care for patients and adjust to evolving needs within the organization, Coolman says continued recognition of their skills and sacrifices is key.

“One of the things I love about Riley is working with all the amazing staff who are caring for patients, who are doing all of the things they need to do. It’s been wonderful to see all of the staff here contribute to care during this time,” he said.

“And the words ‘thank you’ can’t be said enough, for the knowledge, the dedication, the devotion and the work that people are putting in right now.”

Coolman covers the PICU and the fifth floor of Riley, which includes hem-onc, stem cell and the burn unit, but any unit can request a blessing of the hands or other means of support from the Riley chaplaincy department by calling 317.962.8611.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org