Posted by: jaimemwsanders | March 20, 2020

Sheltering in faith

Allie Smith

When I worked in a hospital, I felt like my right hand was tied behind my back. I had been used to work with hospitals – as a nonprofit tax lawyer. A hospital executive or managing physician would ask a question, and I would answer it. I had expertise and experience.

Then I wasn’t a lawyer anymore, I was a student chaplain. Even when there was something practical that I knew how to do, I wasn’t allowed to do it. I was supposed to only be providing spiritual care, and leaving the practical help to the highly competent health professionals. Much of the time, I felt helpless.

I wonder if that is how doctors and nurses are feeling now, as they see the COVID-19 epidemic rising? An experienced nurse told me that the very worst thing for a nurse or doctor is to see someone gravely ill and not to be able to help. In this situation, their ability to help is limited by things completely outside of their control. By decisions made in Washington DC about how to prepare (or not) for a pandemic. By the behavior of millions of individuals, who do or do not believe in the seriousness of what is coming, and do or do not have the power to change their routines. By the fragmented nature of our healthcare system.

We expect so much of our healthcare professionals. We expect them to put their personal lives second to the needs of patients. We expect them to always be heroes, when sometimes they want to be allowed to be weak and afraid. We expect them to know the answers, when we are in a situation in which the truest answer to many questions is, “we don’t know.”

I woke up this morning having fantasies of doing something to help our doctors and nurses and nurses aides and the chaplains and cleaning staff and all the other people on hospital staffs. I thought of pitching a little tent, on the sidewalk in front of a hospital, and offering coffee and ice water and a chair and a listening ear if they want to rant or lament.

Because that is all I discovered about what to do when I felt overwhelmed with the sadness around me and helpless to do anything to fix it. To find a moment of quiet, and a cup of coffee, and a moment of honesty. A moment of honesty with myself and with God.

I probably can’t do what I was dreaming of. Hospital sidewalks are crowded places, and the doctors and nurses would probably just worry about me sitting there. It needs more of a relationship of trust to allow moments of honesty. And what they have asked of me and everyone like me, who doesn’t have any medical skill to lend, is to stay home. Flatten the curve. So that is what I am doing.

But as I stay home, I am praying for the people working in hospitals. I am praying for the patients, for whom today’s psalm speaks:

I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I have become like one who has no strength;

Lost among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,

Whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.

Psalm 88, verses 4-6

I am praying for the nurses, exhausted, scared, doing what they can for as many patients as they can, living with the sorrow that it will never be enough. I am praying for the doctors, whose training and skill did not prepare them for the circumstances in which they now find themselves, but using all their training and skill to fight death anyway. I am praying for the chaplains, some of whom are not even allowed to come to work when their gifts are most needed. I am praying for the less skilled staff, risking their health for inadequate pay, worried about their families at home.

I pray that each of them finds some moments of grace, some words of thanks, a listening ear. And, if they are too busy, and too overwhelmed, and too tired to be able to pray, I pray that they know others are praying for them. At home, because that is what we can do to help.

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