By Christy Conklin
HAND of the Peninsula
A team of HAND volunteers has been giving regular inservice presentations to medical professionals and emergency workers in recent months.
The goal is to spread the word about HAND’s services and help professionals, who are on the frontline at the time of a loss, understand what they can do to best serve their grieving patients.
In November, Dori Ives and I spoke to firefighters from the San Mateo Fire District. First, I went through our PowerPoint presentation that summarizes HAND’s services, the stages of grief, and what are helpful and harmful responses to grieving parents.
Then Dori bravely shared the story of how her baby died from SIDS several years ago. That was, of course, a difficult story to hear, but it opened the group up to an excellent discussion of the sorts of situations firefighters are faced with and what their responses are.
Virtually every firefighter in the audience had responded to at least one SIDS call. “It goes with the job,” one said sadly. They said losing children is the very hardest thing they face, and they usually respond by refusing to stop treating a child until they get to the hospital.
Even though EMTs (emergency medical technicians) have the authority to pronounce a death, they usually won’t do it, out of hope. Theirs is a very active role and they often don’t have much time for comforting parents. We emphasized that a few kind words can go a long way.
Firefighters are also often called when a woman is in the middle of miscarrying, and they have to be the ones to tell her what is happening, since she is in denial and shock.
Firefighters have a hard job, and though they might not be the touchy-feely types, I felt they were very compassionate, competent professionals who would do everything possible for parents in crisis.
They even agreed to carry HAND brochures on all of their trucks, so HAND’s phone number will always be close at hand.
This past January, Stephanie Allen and I spoke to the nurses of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital.
Following the same format as the firefighters’ inservice, we talked about experiences that are particular to the NICU. We emphasized that most parents want to be present in the NICU as much as possible, and that anything the nurses can do to make them feel welcome and part of the medical-care team is the best approach.
Stephanie said her experience at Stanford was excellent, and the nurses seemed to sympathize deeply with the needs of parents.
The nurses asked if dads or teen parents attend HAND meetings. Yes! The nurses requested additional brochures to include in their own grief and loss information packets.
Both inservices were very successful and should be repeated whenever there is sufficient staff turnover.