At Tauranga Hospital, the song Silent Night is the most requested Christmas carol from hospital chaplains walking around the wards singing and spreading cheer.
The hospital is one of the unlikeliest place to be joyous at this time of year, which is why hospital chaplains are doubling their efforts to share the Christmas spirit, said Tauranga hospital chaplain Leanne Brooks.
“It’s a bit like being a spiritual midwife or a spiritual caregiver. You are tending to the spiritual and emotional needs of patients and supporting them when they are most vulnerable due to their health,” she explained.
“We play Christmas carols and go from room to room. People are requesting Silent Night. That’s quite an experience to be standing in the middle of a hospital corridor singing Silent Night,” she said.
Senior Catholic hospital chaplain Tony Lenton said district health boards across the country have acknowledged the need to look after the spiritual well-being of their patients, especially around religious holidays like Christmas.
“Most doctors now acknowledge that the spiritual welfare of their patients, if looked after well, enhances the recovery time of the person,” Mr Lenton said. “Even if it (faith) is talked about as nonsense or irrelevant, the people working in the care areas know that spiritual welfare of people makes a significant contribution to their well-being.
“All the DHBs work overtime to make the patients’ stay at a hospital a happy time. [Christmas] is a time of the greatest collaboration between hospitals and the chaplaincy,” he said. “No grinches at the DHBs.”
Mrs Brooks said it is also an opportunity to tend to the spiritual needs of the staff and the wider hospital community.
“Keeping the Christ in Christmas is what we’re about, I suppose, putting your ‘Christ self’ into action,” she said.
Mrs Brooks said patients are happy to see them “because they know they would be prodded or their blood samples taken”.
She said there are times when the outcomes are tragic.
“As a chaplain, you’re careful to recognise and just journey with the person where they’re at. I often say to people, pain is one of those things. You can’t go around it, you got to go through. But you can have the support of the chaplain and other people,” she said.
Mrs Brooks said last year, she had to walk with a mum who lost her baby.
“We gave the mother a candle. We also brought in people who took hand prints and foot prints of the baby and that meant a lot to her at the time,” Mrs Brooks recalled.
“Whenever you have a loss at Christmas, it’s harder because traditionally it’s a family time.”
However, Mr Lenton said that there are many good news stories.
“Only 14,600 out of that 5 million are discharged deceased,” he said.
Asked what support hospital chaplains need, Mr Lenton said, prayers and rosary beads.
“If people wanted to, a donation of rosary beads to your nearest hospital Catholic chaplain will be very welcome,” he said. “Patients find great comfort in rosary beads because of the crucifix at the end of the beads.”
He also said prayers for the chaplains are needed so that they will have the “wisdom to know what to say and when to keep quiet”.