Friday, August 23, 2013

Hear to listen


What is it like to hold a human heart?

“In the figurative sense that is what we do here at the MGH,” said Rev. John Polk, DMin, BCC, director of the MGH Chaplaincy. “We hold people’s hearts in our hands.”

Earlier this month, Polk delivered an MGH Senior HealthWISE lecture, “The Experience of a Chaplain; Finding Comfort and Strength.” Having come to the MGH last July, he spoke about how his first year with the Chaplaincy involved critical and delicate work, particularly in the days and weeks following the Boston Marathon bombings. “Terrorism was unfamiliar territory,” said Polk. “But we provided a listening ear and a comforting presence for the wounded, their families, the hospital staff – and for each other.”

The MGH Chaplaincy follows a protocol like the rest of the medical world, Polk said. The chaplains conduct assessments of each patient, develop a care plan, utilize best practices, work collaboratively, focus on outcomes and document work. “We believe everybody believes in something, so everyone can benefit from spiritual care.”

Each board-certified chaplain at the MGH serves all traditions, cultures and beliefs and is trained to support the belief system of the person being served without imposing their own beliefs. “Never do chaplains attempt to convert anyone to anything. We come to be with those who are suffering – to ‘hear’ not to ‘fix,’” Polk said.

During his presentation, Polk described a chaplain’s work as a collection of true, real-life stories – noting one event that occurred when he worked in Missouri, and resulted in one of the most profound experiences of his life. A 30-year-old man with a badly diseased heart was waiting in the hospital for a transplant. Polk waited with him. After three months, a new heart finally arrived, and Polk was on the list to observe the transplant.

Polk said, “The surgeon removed the diseased heart and handed it to a nurse who asked me if I would like to see it up close. The nurse not only showed me the heart but placed it in my hands. The heart was still moving, quivering – almost beating.”

For more information about the MGH Chaplaincy call 617-726-2220 or visit

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