My first week in the chaplaincy I got a phone call from a nursing station to visit a patient. The last name triggered a faint little bell. When I arrived the patient’s sibling was there to greet me while nurses did their thing. It was the sibling I remembered from presbytery days. And it turned out that they had volunteered with the chaplaincy in the old days and had retired reluctantly when the government removed support for spiritual care. With teary eyes, the sibling thanked her for coming to visit and for helping this ministry to continue.
In the earliest days of Covid, I got a call, their spouse was in hospital, critically ill, could I come the next morning. Before dawn they called again, could I come now, “Margaret” had just died. But staff would not allow us both to be present with “Margaret,” so we prayed together in the chapel. George went first, then I went, offering end of life prayers. Back in the chapel again we prayed, and I sat while George called their adult children. As I drove home, it occurred to me that we could have used our cellphones to allow George to see and hear while I prayed with Margaret. The restrictions were so new, I hadn’t figured out ways to use technology when we couldn’t be together.
The health authority has ensured that the chaplains have access to all of PPE (personal protective equipment), including the high-tech N95 masks needed when offering care to CoVid positive patients. I have had limited calls offer spiritual care on those units. But there was one very long day in January that I spent in one of the ICUs (Intensive Care Unit). I was called to be there with adult children while a parent was having life support removed on the advice of the doctors – acknowledging their grief, affirming their decision, commending the parent into God’s keeping. When I found out the patient’s spouse was two doors down, also CoVid positive, on life support in an induced coma, I spent some time in prayer beside them. Which is where I was when the nurse asked, “Are you making rounds today?” Another family was keeping vigil outside another cubicle and wanted me to pray, after their own decision to have life support removed. It was a day that definitely put faces to the sorrow and grief of the pandemic.
Patients were receiving medical attention that may have included different procedures for medical-related issues that did not improve their quality of care. Chaplains were then able to advocate for patients and their families. The chaplain’s main interests were in the patient’s quality of life over the quality of care given in the hospital.