Hospital Biz: Pastoral Puppetry and Succotash for the Sufferin’

June 6, 2016


Chaplain Lisa Hermann and her assistants at Providence Health

An ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church, Lisa Hermann knows very well the role that compassion plays in healing. She participated in Clinical Pastoral Education while in seminary, and during her first night of patient rounding, she knew she’d found her calling.

Lisa brings many gifts to her role, not the least of which is her Spanish fluency. “In crisis, people return to their language of comfort,” says Lisa, who has often prayed with families in Spanish to help them find peace.  In fact, she sharpened her Spanish speaking skills through prayer, praying in the language when she lived in with a family in Guatemala. “I also read the Spanish bible during my time there. Since I had been familiar with its words in English, it was a fantastic teaching tool.”

There’s another special gift Lisa brings to her work. She brings friends. “I first started working with puppets in Guatemala where I picked up Manny and Gabby.” The children there were drawn to the puppets, sticking their hands in Gabby’s mouth to see if she’d bite them. That children invest human qualities upon the puppets was expected, but less expected was how adults, even fellow staff, connected with them on a human level. When a pastor friend in North Carolina showed her a room full of puppets in limited use, Lisa’s eyes grew in excitement. That’s where she met Succotash.

“Yep, I was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina,” says Succotash, named for his green and yellow colors. Succotash's head stays the same, but just like us, his outfits do not. In fact, he just received his first pair of scrubs, and he’s been sporting them through the halls with Providence pride. Today, he dressed for this interview in a jacket and tie. “It’s my executive look,” he says. 

The marketing team at Providence first became aware of Succotash on Facebook when a patient in the ER posted a picture of this puppet who had come to explain a procedure to a child. The poster was touched by how well the child received the puppet and how much more receptive he was to the situation at hand with this puppet friend by his side.

Sweet stories abound regarding Lisa and her felt friend. A two-year old girl in ICU said “Succotash, you ain’t got no legs!” lifting up his undercarriage to see if he’d hidden them. Succotash said to her, “It isn’t about what I don’t have… It’s about what I do have,” a lesson children and grownups could both learn.


 

In another instance, a staff member had requested a chaplain to a woman who was feeling low. The woman was refusing to do physical therapy and other therapeutic treatments. Lisa first visited the woman by herself, as she usually does. “Not everyone responds well to puppets. I like to make sure we’re both invited to a patient’s space, so I visit alone first to sit with them and get to know them,” says Lisa. “If I think they’ll enjoy Succotash, I ask if I can bring my friend next time. This woman was very curious and said yes.”

Succotash likes to sing, so when he visited the next time, he broke into “Let’s Get Physical” to encourage the patient to participate in her therapies. The patient smiled and enjoyed the visit. With a lifted mood, she did begin participating in PT.

Another story involves an elderly woman with poor eyesight. The woman wasn’t connecting well with folks, but when she met Succotash, she held him. As she felt what he was, she smiled and spoke joyfully. From then on, Succotash would speak as he was coming down the hall to her room so that this patient could hear his voice. She would say, “Is that my friend I hear?” Then she’d caress his fluffy hair and kiss his head.

Puppet jokes and silly-voiced songs are not what make Succotash a success, however. He is a success because of HIS friend, Lisa, and her extensive training in Pastoral Care. A Board Certified Chaplain must demonstrate 29 competencies. They learn how to celebrate and mourn with patients and loved ones. They learn know how to listen and when and how to speak. In fact, to Lisa it’s not most important to do something. It’s most important to be there.

“A big part of my role is helping people unpack their mind,” she says. “I’ll ask them to tell me their story so that I can carry it for them until they can do it on their own.”

One of the things pastoral care is not there to do is influence religious beliefs. “Yes, we’ll pray with people if that’s what they would like, or we may talk about a higher power. Sometimes people call their beliefs into question when they or a family member is sick, and we listen to their questions and reflect in a non-evangelical way,” says Lisa. “We are not there to change you. We are not there to preach. We are there to help you carry your spiritual load. Whether you are a patient, a family member, or part of our staff, we are there, and we’re there for each other, too.”

Patients, families and staff can contact Pastoral Care through the Providence Operator.