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Hospital's 'Tea for the Soul' Hits the Spot for Harried Healers

August 26, 1995|LARRY STAMMER | TIMES RELIGION WRITER

They have been called the wounded healers.

They include doctors, nurses, social workers and members of the clergy--those who dedicate their lives to helping others.

For them, faced daily with human tragedy, the perennial question is where do the helpers go for help? Who heals the healers?

Health care professionals at the UCLA Medical Center think their newly appointed director of pastoral care, the Rev. David C. Myler Jr., may have found an answer.

Myler calls it "tea for the soul." At least once a month--as often as weekly in some medical units such as intensive care--harried doctors, nurses, housekeepers and other members of medical teams carve out an hour to unwind with tea and cookies.

Sounds simple enough. But Myler said he has noticed that while doctors and nurses excel at taking care of others, they are far worse at taking care of themselves.

The result, he said, can be stress, anxiety and burnout.

"They'll skip lunch or breakfast because they work 12-hour shifts and are on their feet constantly," said Myler, 53, who launched the program three months ago. "They need to be reminded that it's not only OK but very important to their whole well-being to take care of themselves," he said.

Aggravating the problem, Myler said, are staff cutbacks and other budgetary restraints that have placed bigger workloads on those who remain and must maintain a high level of patient care.

Malou Blanco-Yarosh, a clinical nurse specialist and manager of urology and transplant nursing services, said "teas for the soul" have allowed her to "regroup myself."

She recounted the loss felt when a 19-year-old kidney patient died recently.

"We kind of got attached to him and he was telling us, 'I'm really afraid of dying' the night before.

"In the morning he was stable [and] . . . saying he was really afraid of dying. At 10 a.m. he had a full arrest. We resuscitated him for 45 minutes. We did not want to let go. But he succumbed after about two hours."

The next day at the tea, Blanco-Yarosh said she and other staff members wept openly. "A lot of us cried. . . . We just sat there. We talked to the clergy. It was very healing," she said.

Such emotionally wrenching episodes only add to problems that staffers may have at home but keep bottled up.

Janice McKenzie, unit director for medical intensive care, said she practically orders her staff members to attend the tea.

"The staff in intensive care is working always on the edge. The patients are dying. The families are grieving and the staff [has to] leave the stress of their own lives at home," McKenzie said.

No two teas are alike.

Initially, some staffers were skeptical, McKenzie said. They wanted to know if they had to pray or listen to Scripture. There are times, if everyone is in agreement, when they will pray. Or they may do so privately. Sometimes staff members simply sit and listen to music or read. At other times they cry. Some will confer with a chaplain afterward.

Team spirit, McKenzie said, allows nurses to feel comfortable taking time out because they know someone else is watching their patients while they are gone.

Has Myler noticed a change among those staff members who attend the teas?

"I wouldn't want to overstate it, but I do think that the popularity of the teas speak to the need. Hopefully that will pay off in people being more caring for themselves and thinking about ways of doing that," Myler said.

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