A Listening ear

Social Health’s response to many issues have been inspired by the people we have supported. Of all of them, none has been more influential than John Davey. A fifty-eight year-old man with a wicked wit and fierce grace, Davey’s traits were on full display that fateful day when an unsuspecting spiritual care volunteer walked into his hospital room and announced that he was checking in on people who ticked the ‘no religion’ box.

‘Well, obviously I don’t believe in god,’ Davey shot back, while holding up his arms and looking down toward to his legs, all of which were covered in gauze.

When Davey saw in the eyes of the stunned volunteer the realisation that he was recovering from a quadruple amputation, Davey let the man off the hook by flashing a gotcha grin and introducing himself back.

Despite a friendly first chat with the volunteer, Davey found himself a bit confused by his role at the hospital. It’s why he felt compelled to wish him ‘good luck saving those non-souls out there,’ when he left the room. Davey came to accept that the volunteer, who was not affiliated with a faith community but there as a representative of the Secular Spiritual Care Network (SSCN), came with no agenda. When Davey learned more about the other forms of support on offer at the hospital, he grew grateful.

Despite agreeing to meet with a psychologist he had been offered, Davey knew that his suffering had nothing to do with mental illness but was the result of having contracted meningococcal followed by a bout of sepsis that nearly claimed his life. And while he was not only offered the services of a steady stream of spiritual care volunteers from various faith traditions who visited him during the four months he spent in the hospital’s rehab ward, the devout atheist had no interest in having substantive conversations with anyone who might try to make him consider a role for the divine in his circumstances.

Around the time that Davey was to be discharged, the hospital, with the backing of a spiritual care peak body, stopped allowing spiritual care volunteers without a faith affiliation to work there. No longer having the hospital as a point of connection, the two men came up with a workaround. Davey was appointed a member of the SSCN advisory board. When the project ended, he would go on to serve in the same capacity with Social Health Australia. Today, Davey is an active ambassador for our organisation and occasionally a guest speaker in training/reflective practice sessions. He’s also helping us develop a new program envisioned to support young people impacted by isolation/loneliness caused by adversity or trauma.