reflection from a hospital chaplain
Ruth H sent me a link to this very moving piece from a hospital chaplain in East Lancs. I think it really helps to inform us for our prayers so I do hope you find it helpful:
'In the presence of Covid 19
Walking into work feels very strange at the moment and not just because Jasper, my therapy dog, is not by my side. We still say ‘hi’ to each other as we walk past the unusual rows of motorhomes that now occupy a huge area of the car park. However, I can sense the apprehension behind the smiles of my colleagues. Lots of people talk about NHS heroes, but most of us are scared. Scared about what the shift will bring. Scared about taking the virus home to our loved ones. Scared about being ill ourselves. We have locked these feelings inside as we have been preparing for the battle. Over the weeks the hospital has been changing, preparing itself for the challenge ahead, but now is the time and many mornings it feels like we are walking onto the battlefield.
It felt so surreal the very first time I was called to see a patient who was dying with Covid-19. His family had asked for him to have a blessing. I had heard so much about this virus, this disease which had emerged into the world so far away from us, in what feels like a lifetime ago. It was a shock to finally be in its presence, to be in touching distance of this mass killer. This was it. This was what everyone had been talking out, this was the virus that was destroying so many people and changing all our lives. It was a bizarre feeling to witness it behind my clinical visor, to be in the presence of our enemy.
Normally, when saying the final prayers, the family would be there, but one of the cruellest things about this infection, is that it takes away the right of loved ones to be there at the end. All the staff find that very difficult and hard to come to terms with. Together with the medical team, along with one of the domestics, we gather around the gentleman’s bed. The staff bow their heads and I say the words of the 23rd Psalm and give the patient a blessing. This is followed by the words of the Lord’s Prayer – the small congregation join in regardless of their own personal faith. Our voices sound muffled under our FFP3 masks, and I begin to notice tears running down the face of some of my colleagues. It seems particularly cruel that they cannot even wipe away their tears due to the presence of all their PPE equipment and the risk of infection. Their tears soak into the side of their masks. This feels so wrong. The family should be here. Rather stupidly, I find myself giving a caring smile to the staff, and then realise the only part they can see of me is my eyes. Hopefully they understand and can read the emotion in my eyes. In the past we would have given each other a hug, but of course that is no longer allowed.
I ask one of the nurses for the gentleman’s next of kin phone number. I always ring the families of COVID-19 positive patients who are dying that I am called to. It feels important to reassure them that we have carried out their wishes, that their loved one has had a blessing and to assure them that their loved one is not alone. I also ask them if they would like me to say anything to their loved one on their behalf. It is not an easy conversation to have, you find yourself having to shout to enable the family to hear you through your facemask. Nevertheless, it is an essential service to conduct. I write down the messages from the family; the names of grandchildren, messages of love, words of thanks. It is truly heart-breaking to hear the pain in the family’s voices. I also make sure I tell the family my first name and the first name of the nurse who is there at the bedside. That is also important. Perhaps one day, they might want to meet us to see who was with their loved one at the end. I reassure the family that their loved one is not alone, before placing the phone down and going to deliver that final message, trying my hardest to get it exactly right. Those final messages of love.
Sometimes, we also use the iPads that have been donated to us. The web cams provide families with a chance to talk and see their loved ones at the end of life. As I hold the iPad, it is painful to witness the final goodbyes, but it often brings comfort and the assurance that their loved one is comfortable and peaceful, and I can introduce them to the nurse who is looking after them. These families need our professionalism now, but they also need our humanity.
For the staff, this is costly work. We are emotionally drained; our emotions are raw. Tears come much more quickly than they did in the past. You will come across staff just sat in a corner, sitting quietly with tears in their eyes. No words can make this better; however it is essential to recognise that pain, to voice the substance of those tears, and to acknowledge the truth of how awful this all is. Throughout all of this we are still a team, supporting and looking after each other.
As many of us are drained, small gestures go a long way to making us feel stronger. When the Trust started providing free meals, it meant a lot. It was one less thing to think about – food. Also, the cards of appreciation sent in from children and the community, the clapping on a Thursday night, the treats of chocolate, hand-creams, water. It does help and provides comfort to know that people are behind us, thinking of us.
There are also moments of great joy. The wonderful feeling when you see patients getting better, going home, having the chance to see their loved ones again. Alongside the daily number of deaths and cases, the Trust publishes the number of patients who have been saved and have been discharged home to recuperate. These numbers show that there is light at the end of the tunnel that people can survive the virus and together we will get through this. It also highlights the incredible efforts of our staff who fully deserve to have their victories acknowledged and celebrated.
As with all chaplains, we are called to the front line. We stand alongside our clinical and medical colleagues, as one team. ELHT, and the NHS as a whole, is the most amazing team. In fact, a family of people of all ages, religions, beliefs and nationalities. A family who are scared, but are and will continue, to give their all for our patients and our communities. Your continuous support gives us strength to face the challenges ahead. Help us by staying home to protect yourself and the NHS, who will in turn continue to save lives.' (Taken from https://www.elht.nhs.uk/news-and-media/news 25 april 2020).
Eugene Peterson once wrote " what I do with my grief affects the way you handle your grief; together we form a community that deals with death and other loss in the context of God's sovereignty, which is expressed finally in resurrection". May God be merciful to us as we journey together in these challenging days.