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A patient who was known as a faithful public servant had a final wish before he died – to be baptized. Here’s how his caregivers at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital responded.
It didn’t matter what it was. When Michael Winkle was asked to do something, he’d respond: “I’ll take care of it.”
He once offered assistance on Christmas Eve to a stranded motorist who showed up at his downtown Muncie workplace. He served two tours of duty with the Army and was described by friends and family members as “selfless,” and “reliable.” He didn’t want to be a boss; he wanted to be a helper, said his father, Mike Winkle.
So now it was his turn.
Winkle was admitted to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital on Nov. 1, 2018 requiring intubation from respiratory failure. He was on a ventilator for eight days. At the age of 51, his physical and mental state was severely compromised. He needed physical and speech therapy in order to regain enough strength to return home. As a patient in the Acute Rehab Center, he completed four days of therapy. His symptoms became worse. Michael Winkle was dying.
He was given days to weeks and his family was called to discuss his prognosis and options. He wanted to go home to spend the last days with his dad, sisters, four children, 10 grandchildren and his dog. But before he did, he had one final wish – he wanted to be baptized.
Named “Michael Wayne” after his father’s youngest brother, Michael Winkle was the youngest of three children of Mike Winkle and the late Alice Anne Winkle. His great grandfather was one of the people who helped bring Central Church of Christ to Muncie from Tennessee. That first congregation branched into several more in the community. The young Michael Wayne attended a Christian school through eighth grade. Later in life he made other choices.
“I believed my children should make their decisions. I taught them well and I think God knows our hearts,” said the elder Mike Winkle. When his son had one final request, Mike Winkle turned to his church. Church members turned to Ann Taylor, a family friend, fellow church member, nurse and director of Integrated Care Management at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.
“I got the call around 9 p.m. and even though it was late, I reached out to rehab administrator Paula Tyler to see if the rehab unit had a tub large enough to accommodate the baptism in the hospital,” said Taylor. The Church of Christ practices baptism by immersion and that was Michael Winkle’s wish. He wanted his entire body to be beneath the surface of the water.
That one phone call by Taylor was a kick-starter to a machine focused on one thing for Michael Winkle: “I’ll take care of it.”
Tyler reached out to Cynthia Dale, the manager of inpatient rehabilitation services, who then reached out to Carrie Brannon, clinical operations manager. From there, the machine took flight.
“One thing that is unique to rehab nurses is to help remove barriers to get patients home and this is one way to remove a barrier and make it something special. This is what we do. There was never any doubt in anyone’s mind that it would happen it was just how and when,” said Brannon.
In a matter of hours, a restroom in the rehab unit was transformed into a sacred place – a place where Michael Winkle would be baptized. A screen was put into place to hide the commode, a cross was hung, flowers were brought in and a tub was filled with water.
Standing 5’8” and weighing 260 pounds, Michael Winkle wasn’t sure he was going to fit in the tub. At one point he told the nurses and occupational therapists that maybe it wasn’t worth the work. They reassured him that it was indeed worth the effort.
On Nov. 21, 2018, Michael Winkle’s caregivers helped him from his bed, into a wheelchair, and then gently lowered him into the tub. At around noon Mark Reynolds, a pastor at Town Acres Church of Christ kneeled beside the tub in the rehab unit and completed the circle of Michael Winkle’s request – at times splashing water on Winkle’s body in the makeshift baptistery.
The small room was filled with Winkle’s loved ones – including his father. Standing nearby was a cluster of Winkle’s caregivers – waiting to offer assistance and also provide dry clothes. But there was more – they were part of something unlike their daily routine. Afterward, they joined in song, “Amazing Grace.”
“There was not a dry eye in the room. The kindness, caring, and compassion extended to this patient and his family was not just, ‘all in a day's work.’ It was true patient-centered care at a time when this patient needed it most and was truly above and beyond,” said Taylor.
One of those caregivers was rehab nurse Leigh Martin.
“It’s the first time I’ve been involved with anything like this,” said Martin, her eyes welling with tears. “It was awesome. The man was dying but he had made the decision he wanted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. It doesn’t get any better than that. This isn’t about me or us, it’s about him and his decision.” Joining Martin was nurse Mary Landis, and occupational therapist Sara Greer.
“This experience allowed me to build my problem-solving and clinical-reasoning skills, grow as a practitioner, and most importantly, reminded me of the reasons why I decided to become an occupational therapist. Being able to achieve a patient's goal and witness the joy in that moment was truly a rewarding experience,” said Greer.
“The look on Winkle’s face said it all,” said Martin. “He smiled so big.”
It was exactly the reassurance his father had hoped for.
“He wanted to do the right thing. After talking to the chaplain he was sure he wanted to be baptized and this staff made it happen,” said Mike Winkle. “I couldn’t have taken him anywhere else where he would have gotten better care. These people are wonderful. I can never repay them enough.”
Michael Wayne Winkle was released from Ball Memorial the next day and into the care of his family with the assistance of Hospice. He died eight days after his baptism on Nov. 29, 2018.
“I miss him so much,” said his father. “It gives me some peace to know I had him for 51 years, four months and 12 days and I now know where he is and I’ll get to see him again.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email email@example.com.