Thrive by IU Health

June 02, 2021

Hospital chaplain: From bedside compassion to hospitalized care

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Hospital chaplain: From bedside compassion to hospitalized care

She’s sat at the bedside of new moms and patients undergoing radiation therapy. She’s also provided comfort for patients and their families in the emergency room. Now, IU Health Chaplain Wanda Washington is on the other side – she is the patient.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

A soft blanket covers Wanda Washington’s hospital bed. It displays the words: “Hope,” “Comfort,” “Resilience,” “Hugs,” “Strength,” and “Peace.”

The words are familiar to Washington. She has practiced most of them in her five-year career as a chaplain with IU Health. But long before she joined the hospital, Washington was called to a career of caring.

Wanda and Wayne Washington

Married for 30 years to Wayne Washington, she is the mother to three children, grandmother to six grandchildren, and great-grandmother to two children. She and Wayne met when she was a resident at a Chicago hospital and he was a pharmacy technician. At 67, Washington, a native of Chicago, holds two master’s degrees – one in special education and one in divinity.

After high school Washington landed a full scholarship and attended MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill. where she studied special education. She followed that career path for 14 years at a residential school. She then earned her Master of Divinity and became a pastor at an 8,000-member church in Chicago. That career took her to Milwaukee where she started a new church with the focus on serving African American LGBTQ families.

“I was there seven years and then my youngest son started having children and I didn’t want my grandchildren to not know their Nana so we moved to Indianapolis,” said Washington. That was in 2012. Three years later she completed her training as a hospital chaplain and joined IU Health working in the mother-baby unit, NICU, radiation therapy, and sometimes in the emergency room at Methodist Hospital.

“I like to meet people of all walks of life, all different belief systems, all different privileges, and all different socio-economic backgrounds,” said Washington. “As a chaplain, I have the privilege of being with people on the most difficult days of their lives.”

On June 25th, Washington had her own experience of one of the most difficult days in her life. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. She is a patient of Dr. Harold Longe at IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

Washington hadn’t been feeling well and tests showed her hemoglobin levels were low. First she began iron infusions and then was referred to hematology.

“They were running all kinds of tests so I knew I must be really sick. When I was admitted to Methodist Hospital Dr. Longe walked in the room and said he believed I had multiple myeloma. For Dr. Longe to be on call that day was a blessing in itself. I’ve found out since that this type of cancer is common among African Americans so I continue to count my blessings that it was discovered,” said Washington. Since her diagnosis she has undergone chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

“The hard times have been because of the process but I love Dr. Longe. He’s had a lot of experience with African American patients with this type of cancer and I feel comfortable in his hands,” said Washington. “I’m the type of person I want to know what I’m up against and then figure out how to calmly deal with it.”

Washington uses a similar approach as a chaplain and she has learned from those in her care.

She recalls a time she was sitting with a family in the emergency room at IU Health Methodist Hospital. A young man had been shot and his medical team worked long hours trying to save his life.

“It was my responsibility to keep the family members calm. This young man’s mother began praying loudly with all of her heart. I was amazed and wondered if I could pray like that in the same situation. Even after her son died, she had all his friends gathered in the waiting room get down on their knees and pray. Her prayer was that God had other plans for him and would give the family and friends strength to understand his will,” said Washington.

“As chaplains if we’re not learning from our patients, we’re not listening to our patients. We need to hear what is behind their words,” she said. “Being on the other side as a patient has forever made me more compassionate. I will forever be grateful for everything the nurses, doctors and techs do. You’re at the mercy of people taking care for you at a time you do nowt want to be here.”



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