By Mike Corrigan
“Trauma care outside the trauma setting” is how I sometimes describe my work as a chaplain with the Wichita Police Department. However, delivering trauma-informed care is very difficult in these situations.
After my board certification, I worked as a staff chaplain in a Level One trauma center hospital. In trauma care, the patient is very often incapable of communicating, and I focus on family and friends of the trauma patient. These trauma cases are almost always unexpected because of auto collisions, shootings, falls, and various other incidents. Loved ones are usually upset, distressed, and not thinking and acting rationally. Once in a while I followed up in-house with some of the trauma victims, but usually that was the job of the ICU chaplain, while normally I would have one or two additional visits with their families.
Five years ago, I retired from the hospital. But I wanted to continue working part time, and I found my place in hospice care. I found many differences and similarities between trauma care and hospice care. I continued to use empathetic care with patients as they entered the final stage of their lives and with family members as they prepared for the death of loved ones. However, these cases are very seldom unexpected. I am often involved with patients and families for weeks or sometimes many months. In these less stressful situations, I am usually able to help the patients and families discover for themselves how to find meaning, purpose and comfort in the impending death.
While I have earned my living in both the hospital and hospice settings, I also volunteer as a police chaplain with the Wichita Police Department. Police chaplaincy tends to mirror the trauma situations in the hospital, but without the medical staff, physical comfort of the hospital building, or often access to simple amenities such as water or restrooms.
Like the trauma department, the police calls that I respond to are always critical situations. Most involve death. As in the trauma center, they are unexpected and very often young victims. Also like the trauma bay, I have limited time with the patients and their families. Rarely do I have any contact after the call. I might spend two or three hours with them and maybe attempt to help them find follow-up support, but I am then out of the picture.
Hospitals try to create comforting settings in our quiet rooms and safety areas for family members of victims to feel safe and comfortable. But a police call is often at the crime scene, and the family of the victim has to deal with weather, other people, and uncomfortable situations as they face one of the worst moments of their lives.
In Wichita, police chaplains almost exclusively support the victims and their families. This does differ from chaplains I know in other departments, some of whom focus on supporting the police officers and staff. On our local chaplain volunteer team, some of us are board-certified chaplains. Others are ordained Protestant ministers, including some who have learned chaplaincy by a pseudo-verbatim process. After a call, they often go through the encounter on a step-by-step basis with peer chaplains and learn from the responses of those that they have cared for.
I find great meaning in both hospice and emergency hospital work. But on a police call, where often the families and victims have many life issues and difficulties even before the unthinkable emergency, I have found my work to be most meaningful of all.
Mike Corrigan, BCC, is a staff chaplain with Phoenix Hospice in Wichita, KS, and a volunteer chaplain with the Wichita Police Department.