A Presbyterian couple delivers compassionate care at life’s beginning and end
August 2, 2021
The Rev. Dr. Whitney and Amy Dempsey have a decorative wooden sign hanging in the hallway of their home in Colorado. It’s a Japanese proverb that they both feel summarizes the essence of the work they do: “The sun setting is no less beautiful than the sun rising.”
Whitney and Amy work at a Denver metropolitan hospital. Whitney is a hospice chaplain, assisting patients and families at the end of life, and Amy is a labor and delivery nurse, welcoming new life into the world. Whitney also serves as a half-time interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Georgetown and Amy is a ruling elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada, where she and the couple’s three children have attended for more than a decade.
The Dempseys met more than three decades ago during a one-semester exchange program at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. They recently marked 26 years of marriage at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic where Amy volunteers four to six hours each week. Denver’s 9News crew featured Amy giving Whitney his second COVID-19 vaccination. Watch the video.
“Before [COVID-19] we were moving toward unlimited visiting hours 24/7 with unlimited numbers,” Amy said of the medical center. “We just had an open campus. It was beautiful. We had families coming around the clock to welcome and say goodbye.”
From the birthing side of things, “Pregnant moms do a really good job of social isolation, wearing masks and observing community health recommendations,” Amy said. She recognizes that rules limiting visitors to one designated support person are tough for families and for staff, but necessary during the pandemic.
“This last case we had, where the mom was positive for COVID, dad was positive too. So he ‘physically’ missed the birth of his child because we can’t allow any positive COVID visitors into the hospital,” she said. The hospital does, however, use video platforms to include family virtually in the birth of their baby.
At end of life, it’s like the stories many people have heard. As a hospice chaplain, Whitney is in the room in full personal protective gear, holding the iPad for a family to tell their loved one goodbye. “It’s really hard because you are hearing these moments that are really private and are supposed to be private, but you have to hold that iPad for them,” Whitney said.
Sometimes it’s possible to have outside-inside “window visits” or “patio visits.” Or, if a family is large, sometimes patients can be wheeled outside for loved ones to say goodbye.
“In addition to the physical demands of caring for COVID patients, there are also the emotional demands,” Whitney said. “While we have certainly become accustomed to wearing PPE, our staff still feels the hardships of patients being alone at such a vulnerable time. A patient dying alone is not what hospice is about. The moral distress the staff feels is very real.”
When times get tough, Whitney said he thinks about the tremendous sense of teamwork he has seen amount the medical center staff – not only physicians and nurses but the people who clean the rooms, the certified nursing assistants — in short, the entire care team. “Medical people really do a good job of reaching out to one another, caring for one another, making sure they’ve got each other’s backs and helping out,” he said.
Amy gets choked up thinking back to the beginning of the vaccine clinic, giving the shots to some of her ICU colleagues at the medical center. “They were just so overwhelmed with joy and hope,” she said. “It was really an exciting thing to be part of — very satisfying to think, ‘OK, this is my little piece of this big puzzle, and I can contribute in this significant way.’”
What would Amy say to anyone who’s unsure about getting the vaccination?
“Obviously, there is a lot of individual decision-making that goes into the process, along with physician guidance,” she said. “People have different types of underlying conditions that might impact their decision to take this, but if you are able, I’m 100% for it. I feel like it’s our bit of hope.”
Tammy Warren, Recently Retired Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Compassionate care at life’s beginning and end
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
O God, whose love stretches around the world, bless your disciples who serve your people. Enliven their ministries and show them compassion, that they may better reflect your presence in our changing world, which craves knowledge and truth only you can illuminate. Amen.