As a chaplain at Mount St. Mary's Hospital, Lewiston, NY, I have the opportunity to be actively involved with patients on the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic. As of this week a large tent has been placed in front of the hospital for triaging patients who would normally enter into the emergency room to ease the number of individuals needing serious medical assistance versus those who have minor issues.
Currently our 6th floor has been designated as a "Red Zone" for patients who have been diagnosed with coronavirus or patients who are waiting on test results. We have 13 patients on the floor. The nurses and other healthcare workers are heroes, willing to place themselves in harm's way. Because of the contagion on this floor we must get fully dressed in protective gear - gloves, special gowns, two masks (N-94 and a regular mask over it), and goggles. I visit the floor twice a day, primarily checking up with and supporting the healthcare personnel. However, I walk down the hallways and step inside patient rooms that have open doors to offer a prayer and/or blessing.
The hard part for the patients on this unit is how long it takes to get test results. It has been taking 5-7 days to hear if a patient's test is positive or negative. Those who test positive, and are medically stable, are transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Buffalo which has been designated as a Coronavirus Hospital for Catholic Health. Those who test negative are discharged and sent home, if medically appropriate for discharge. We are clearly in need of more testing with quicker return of results.
This is a very difficult time for our healthcare workers. Yesterday, I was talking with a nurse who was crying because she cannot see her grandson on his 1st birthday. Another nurse told me that she no longer kisses or hugs her two young children for fear of passing the virus on to them. Some staff are exhausted working 12-13 hour shifts and then have to go home and help their children with school work that needs to be done and sent into their teachers. The greatest fear among healthcare workers is contracting the virus and bringing it home to their loved ones.
I work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday-Friday and from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday so that I can connect with both the day and the evening staff. The evening staff are often the forgotten ones, but I know they too are having a difficult time during this epidemic.
The days are long for our patients, as they are not allowed visitors, needed medical tests are postponed, and all surgeries - except for emergencies - are cancelled. Last Saturday, I was working for a couple of hours and we had a death in the ICU. The patient died alone, unexpectedly, because family could not be present. Afterward, only the daughter was permitted to come into the room. The granddaughter, who was exceptionally close to her grandfather, had a very difficult time because she didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to him. It was a very painful moment for the family, for me, and for the staff. This will be the case for many other fragile patients and their families in the next few days and weeks.
Please keep our healthcare workers in your prayers, that God keep them safe; as well as our patients who are seriously sick and for their families who must remain separated from them.