Courtney Wilson: Keeping the faith

Chaplain brings hope to COVID-19, emergency patients

Courtney Wilson remembers when she got the call. The health of the patient was beginning to decline quickly. He was scared and alone in the neurosurgical intensive care unit at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. He just wanted to talk to someone. As quickly as things escalated, Wilson slipped on her personal protective equipment and rushed to his side. 

When she arrived, the patient was in pain. He put out his hand to be held. Wilson leaned in and listened to him.

“He said, ‘I just need to tell one more person that I love them,’ and he took my hand,” Wilson said. “He said, ‘I love you. Thank you for being here.’ We prayed for his family. I told him I loved him back.”

In just a few hours, he passed away, but Wilson still cherishes her short time with him. As a hospital chaplain, it’s her mission to support individual and families through faith-based counseling. Ordained through the Alliance of Baptists, she welcomes the opportunity to support and pray with patients of all faiths and traditions.

“I think there’s so much beauty in all types of faith, so I try to tap into what I can, based on the individual in front of me,” Wilson said.  

She recalls one moment when she bonded with an atheist over philosophy. She described him as gentle, and the experience reminded her of how a compassionate presence, courageous conversation and meaningful connections can really help someone with or without prayer.

“It really comes down to a human connection,” Wilson said. “You go in there and be your authentic self. You just talk. Most importantly, you listen. There are no judgments and no assumptions.”

Wilson believes personal connection can be a powerful force for a patient when it seems like everything else is spiraling out of control.

“I’m a firm believer that even in our darkest, darkest of times, there is a whole lot of good at work, and you can find it if you look for it,” Wilson said.

At times, Wilson has had to find the good herself. Growing up, her family grappled with poverty and addiction issues. Wilson found hope through her faith and attended divinity school before joining Novant Health in 2018. She found being a chaplain to be just the right fit.

“It was the perfect alignment of my love of God, my love to serve and my love of people,” Wilson said. “It allowed me to pull all of the pains in my life and all of the experiences to help care for others and hopefully instill a little hope along the way.”

The circumstances around her role change from day to day. Wilson frequently spends time with neuro patients or individuals struggling with behavioral health and addiction issues. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson is there for patients and families facing the unknown. Although she might not always have the answers, she does her best to acknowledge them and validate their experience. This has been crucial in a time when COVID-19 protocols have kept patients separated from visitors.

“I try to be there in every way I can,” Wilson said. “I try to remind them they’re not alone. Sometimes, it’s a physical or spiritual sense. They’re always surrounded by love.”

Primarily assigned to the emergency room unit, she’s a part of a team of eight chaplains at Forsyth Medical Center, six who are full-time. Wilson’s role was seeded with initial funding from Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation. Today, her role is independently funded by the medical center. Wilson is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than herself.

“I have learned so much in these two years,” Wilson said. “I didn’t expect the impact the community and the hospital would have on me. There was just a comfort coming in here and being an extension of remarkable care.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic still continues in 2021, Wilson and her fellow chaplains will be ready to answer the call for those in need, one prayer at time. She believes there is always hope when people come together.   

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