COVID-19 placed a drain on medical personnel we nurses didn’t see coming. We’ve managed infectious diseases before, handled cumbersome PPE, and even ventured into uncharted waters with a diagnosis we weren’t sure how to handle. But I must admit, the Monday morning when the COVID numbers at my hospital unit jumped into the double digits, and doubled again by the end of the week, pandemic seemed an appropriate word. I placed a call to my pregnant daughter, Anna, and told her that until I was no longer caring for these patients, it would be safest if I did not see them. My two-year-old granddaughter didn’t understand why she couldn’t go to Grandma’s.
On my way into work one morning a woman stopped me. “Can you get a message to my husband? I can’t go in, can I?” The eighty-something woman gripped her walker and seemed frantic. I recorded her message on my cell phone and left her on a nearby bench. Outside her husband’s hospital room, I grabbed a gown, shoe coverings, hair net, mask and face shield, and gloves. I put my cell phone in a clear plastic bag and prayed it wouldn’t obscure the picture too much. Her husband listened to the message as tears streamed down his face. He mouthed a thank-you through his nonrebreather.
I couldn’t do all the usual satisfying nurse things like hold his hand or give him a hug. Neither could I offer that to his wife. It felt so pathetic, holding up a cell phone in a plastic bag, hoping he could see her, hear her. Afterwards, I tramped back downstairs brushing past a coworker who asked if I was ok. I nodded a yes, but I meant no.
Outside, that sweet wife was waiting. At least I could tell her he heard her voice and seemed to know it was her. I swallowed hard, wrote my cell number down on a piece of paper and handed it to her. “Anytime you need to get a message to your husband, you call me. Anytime, ma’am. I will meet you here.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, many heralded healthcare workers as heroes. But as the crisis lingers, many have lost their patience with guidelines, and taken their frustrations out on healthcare workers. COVID-19 resembled a war zone in some areas of the country with health care workers as its soldiers. And this army has its casualties too. According to the CDC, more than 150,00 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19, 702 have died. The stress was compounded by frequently changing safety protocols. My coworkers worried about taking the virus home to their family. Many reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A beloved coworker of mine, Leo Paz, who served cardiac patients at University Hospital for years and who suffered from PTSD, took his life after volunteering to work on the COVID floor. We healthcare workers are used to asking, “Are you ok?” But we aren’t always honest when faced with the question ourselves.
So how can the Church speak into and encourage first responders—and really anyone who might be struggling during this difficult time? A couple of thoughts come to mind:
- Offer a listening ear: It might be tempting to offer advice, or platitudes of “Hang in there,” to an exhausted nurse, who watched someone die despite all the efforts launched to save him. Honestly, there just aren’t any words for a moment like this. Your physical presence may be enough. If he wishes to talk, just listen, and be slow to speak. Leave the sermons to the preacher. Remember: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” Proverbs 18:13.
- Reach Out: Write a personal note of encouragement, or a thank you note. Get young kids involved. Nurses love handwritten notes created by little fingers. Call. Let someone know they are on your mind. Ask how you might pray for them. Follow up in a few days or weeks asking how things are going. Many healthcare workers are isolated on purpose, so they don’t place anyone they love at unnecessary risk. That means they may still be worshipping online for the sake of the body of Christ.
- Lend a hand: Many healthcare workers endure long shifts and mandatory overtime and would love to come home to a yard where the leaves are raked, grass is mowed, etc. Can you take care of their children for the afternoon? Can you bring some healthy snacks to a nurses station at a local hospital? Cook a meal for a nurse who hasn’t made time for anything but fast food all week?
- Pray for healthcare workers, teachers, really anyone on the frontlines of this pandemic as Paul did the Colossians: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light ” Colossians 1:9-12.
Encouraging our frontline workers may take some sensitivity and creativity but doing so may be the very thing God uses to strengthen weary hands and steady a struggling heart.
About the Author:
Gaye Clark is a case manager for Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She writes in her free time. She is the widow of James Clark, mother of Anna and Nathan, and grandmother to Clark Jaymes. You can follow her Facebook Writer’s page-Gaye Clark or on Twitter.