Parishes Help Inspire Heroes
Group effort supplies stones for inspiration
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
January 7, 2021
They seem like small things — little, polished stones with words carved into them — but they brought some happiness and hope to nurses and other front line workers caring for COVID patients and others.
Church of Holy Apostles in McHenry, St. Mary Parish in Huntley and DeFiore Funeral Home partnered together to provide each employee at Northwestern hospitals — located in McHenry, Huntley and Woodstock — with inspirational stones.
“We had 20 different ones to choose from,” says Father Paul White, pastor at Holy Apostles, “including Peace, Love, Family, Inspiration, Trust in the Lord, Choose Joy, Pray Always, Wisdom and Courage.
“It was a huge lift at the roughest time” as a second wave of the virus was on the horizon, he says.
Sister Appolonia Irika, of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy, serves as interim manager at the three hospitals and says “the stones got everyone inspired. They gave assurance ... so beautiful and long lasting ... (the staff) loved it.”
All the stones, Sister Appolonia adds, were “blessed by the priests. Some (employees) have them in their pockets, some gave them” to family members. One nurse chose a stone to encourage her daughter.
Nurse Joan Rembacz works in emergency services and is a parishioner at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Cary, also attending Holy Apostles near her work. She’s been a nurse for 38 years, 17 of them at Northwestern Medicine.
With her long list of credentials, she simply describes herself as “the go-to gal, the troubleshooter,” who helps out wherever she is needed. 
Overall, the patients are sicker right now, in part because people who should have come in for care delayed coming in because of the coronavirus, she says, noting, “This is usually a heavy time as well (due to) the holidays, and with COVID now we are seeing more people. I’m working more, but I’m doing it because I want to, I want to help the staff ... I’m usually at the bedside, helping.”
The medical team keeps her going, Rembacz says, along with “the patients and seeing them get better, or at least stabilized, and knowing I made a difference.”
Her inspirational stone was first “Pray always,” she says, but she later picked “I am with you always.” 
“It’s sitting right here in my office, and I look at it every day,” she says.
“In the emergency room I brought a box (of the stones) out, and at shift change they were all picked ... people picked what spoke to them.”
She adds that the support the front line workers have received from the pastoral staff, hospital leadership and the community are a lot like the stones in that they provide “something to let you know (they are) behind you, and (those are) not just words.”
Rembacz plans to receive the COVID vaccine, in part because her mother has COPD and is a frail state, and also because she hopes to return to her volunteer work with a veteran’s group once she is not so busy at work. That will likely be a while. 
“This is a marathon now,” she says. “This isn’t a sprint anymore.”
Tina Schwichow is a weekend nursing supervisor and emergency room nurse at Northwestern Medicine during the overnight hours. She’s been a nurse for more than eight years and has been a member of Holy Apostles parish since it was established.
She works “a multitude of different roles,” she says. “Basically, I’m the problem solver and represent leadership on those off hours.”
Described by Father White as one who “has seen the worst of the worst,” Schwichow says, “I have seen some situations that will never leave my heart (including) sudden deaths with auto accidents, heart attacks, strokes, and a limited amount of visitors or if family members just can’t be there (for a patient) at that time.”
The uncertainties of COVID have been a difficulty, she says, in spite of “a lot of wonderful science.”
Did a patient pass the virus on to their family; will they have long term effects from it; how will they respond to a particular treatment? are all questions she and others ask themselves.
“One way we treat (a patient) works one day (but) we do the same for another, and it doesn’t,” Schwichow says. “As nurses we want to help that person. Give us a problem, we’ll take it on 100 percent ... we want to find that solution, we want to cure it, we want to end it.”
Her work includes “trying to reassure the patient and team members (that) we’re doing the best we can ... For me, it’s a very humbling experience. (It’s) God tapping me on the shoulder saying ‘Remember who’s in charge.’
“As a country, we have fantastic medical research and treatments, but we have to remember too there’s a higher power that’s surely in control. As a nurse, I like to be in control, solve a situation ... and I’m gently reminded somebody else is in charge.”
Her faith, Schwichow says, “100 percent helps me cope. My faith is Number One in my life ... (God) gifted me the passion and desire to be a nurse. That’s a calling.”
After viewing all the inspirational stones “carefully,” Schwichow chose Be Still and Know, “because it reminds me to relax my mind and know that God is there, and He’s going to help me through any turmoil, any situation.”
She credits Father White with coming up with the idea. 
“The beautiful part of all the stones has nothing to do with religion,” she says. “It truly is about healing and supporting an individual soul ... that is a remarkable and absolutely beautiful gift.”
When asked about the vaccine, Schwichow says, “I am slowly investigating all avenues of it” and although she is undecided at the moment, adds she may get it “in the near future.”
Her nurse-perspective of this time in history, she says, includes “we’re all tired, exhausted, putting in extra hours, making sure shifts are covered (and) patients cared for properly. Everyone is stepping up and being there.
“It’s a remarkable field, a calling, and I’m beyond honored to be a part of it.”
Lynne Westphal is an obstetrics nurse who is a charge nurse on 12-hour night shifts. She is a member of Church of Holy Apostles and has been a nurse for 35 years, 30 of those at Northwestern Medicine.
“COVID has been very challenging for us,” she says. With labor and delivery, her staff is “taking care of people at one of the most important days of their lives.”
There is space on her unit for COVID patients, and she notes the staff is “really conscious of our care of COVID patients. It’s still the same challenges ... on a daily basis, with COVID on top of it.”
Whether or not a new mom has the virus, protocols are in place, and Westphal experienced the difficulties firsthand early on when her daughter delivered her second child the first week of the March COVID lockdown. 
The boy was born with “certain really special needs that needed attention from (medical services) in Chicago and Philadelphia,” Westphal says. “When she delivered, I was working and was there, but the next day I was not on shift and was not allowed to be there. That was very, very difficult, (but) I follow Northwestern policy (with) no exceptions in time of quarantine ... So I can really identify with the families.”
Her grandson now “is thriving and doing well,” Westphal says, and the experience “keeps me grounded. I know both sides ... (of) not being able to have your family around you.”
Support from others is important for the nighttime staff even as they themselves “treat our patients like we want our families to be treated.” 
“The world functions on daytime,” Westphal says, noting that much of the community’s supportive efforts happen during the day.
“Father Paul and others had the (inspirational) stones laid out just for the night shift,” she says. “I can’t tell you how tickled, especially working nights, it was to see them. We talked about it the entire week ... (it) really has made us feel special and supported and loved, and we are very grateful to them.”
As with the other shifts, the many choices of sayings were pondered by Westphal and the others.
“I picked ‘You Are Loved.’ It was a hard choice though,” Westphal says, adding that she first kept her stone at work, but now she has it “at home on my coffee table, where I sit and decompress when I come home.”
Asked about what keeps her going, Westphal says, “Certainly my faith has ... we work long hours and you get tired. We rely on faith and on the strength of one another (and) on the community.” She also names support from her parish and pastor as well as her family.
“We believe because of our faith that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “It won’t be forever.”
Her hopes for the vaccines are that “it will slow and stop the transmission of this terrible disease, and that people will be lining up to get it ... We have to be trustful and have faith that this is the right thing to do (to help) make it ‘way more manageable.” She was scheduled to receive the vaccine that very week.
“It’s important that everyone take it,” she says, “not only to protect yourself, but also to protect the people you love.”


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