Traditions in translation
When a team of healthcare workers learned that a Vietnamese gentleman with no family in the country had passed away at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, they went above and beyond to make sure he was laid to rest according to his faith and fulfill a family’s wishes from half way across the world.
Tom Nguyen suffered a stroke and was admitted to Presbyterian Medical Center in early 2014. During his hospital stay, nurses were concerned because he wasn’t eating his meals. After inviting Vietnamese interpreter, Juliette Nguyen, to speak to Tom, they learned he preferred to eat foods like soup that are part of traditional meals in his home country. Each day, Juliette brought Tom soup from a local Vietnamese restaurant so that he would be nourished by food he enjoyed.
As Tom’s health began to decline, Lin Hanley, palliative care social worker, reached out to Carissa Ingham, decedent care coordinator, who began a search for Tom’s family, with the help of Juliette. From her visits with Tom, Juliette knew he had family who lived in Vietnam. Carissa and Juliette located Tom’s nephew and sister, thanks in part to an old, worn note Carissa found in his belongings. Although Tom’s family didn’t have the means to travel to the States or make funeral arrangements for their uncle, Carissa assured the family she would fulfill their requests by carrying out a traditional Buddhist ritual.
Juliette arranged for a group of Buddhist monks and nuns from a nearby temple to come to the hospital to perform an end-of-life ceremony for Tom. Because part of this ceremony involves burning incense, a team of employees at Presbyterian Medical Center worked together to locate a room and temporarily bypass the smoke alarms in that room so the ceremony could be performed properly.
After the ceremony, Carissa and Juliette mailed photos of the ceremony and Tom’s belongings to his family in Vietnam. They were so grateful to learn the ceremony had been carried out according to the traditions of their faith.
Arranging and executing this ceremony required the cooperative work of several teams at Presbyterian Medical Center. Their teamwork and thoughtfulness helped bring peace to a family at difficult time. Carissa and Juliette shared the experience with their leaders, Kris Wright, corporate director for patient relations, and Lillian Warren, corporate director for interpreter services, who both strongly supported their efforts. As Carissa reflected on their experience, she shared how Kris had summed it up perfectly. She said, “It is really cool to work for an organization that allows us to do these things because it is the right thing to do for another human being and their family- even if they are half way around the world.”