A Chaplain’s Perspective Essay VII: Fighting Fatigue

It has been nearly seven months since we had our first confirmed COVID+ patient in the hospital. That day stands out in my memory, March 27, 2020 to be exact. It has been quite a journey so far.

One of the things I have done since the beginning of the pandemic has been to walk the COVID+ halls at least twice a week. During these walks, I like to check in with staff to get a sense of morale, and provide an attentive ear, or words of encouragement. I talk with staff to determine especially difficult situations that might be occurring and then follow-up with family to provide support as needed. I often say a quiet prayer for the patients, families and staff. In addition, I count the number of COVID+ patients and those COVID+ patients currently on a breathing machine.

As a chaplain it is important to model faith, hope and endurance to other staff. This is grounded in the starting position of every chaplain encounter; being a compassionate presence who can keep your head when often the people around you cannot.

One of the ways a person can keep their head in difficult situations is to seek a broader perspective and even a perspective that can reasonably anticipate future behavior and events. Walking the COVID+ halls has given an avenue for these kinds of perspectives. It is the reason for this meditation, “Fighting Fatigue”.

A reality for all persons in the healthcare world in these days is the necessity to reach down deep and simply do what is needed during this pandemic. In my own little corner of the world it has meant chaplains working additional hours and various shifts as budget cuts have been made, requiring staffing changes.  These staffing cuts have occurred throughout the hospital (and I am sure are occurring in many healthcare systems) because of the very difficult financial realities healthcare facilities are experiencing throughout the country due to the pandemic.

As I write this meditation, I am working my sixteenth night shift this fall. I had thought working night shifts was part of my past. It was a position I worked for three years at a younger age. But all chaplains have stepped up to cover night shifts as needed. Working as a team is one of the ways we support each other and journey through the challenges of the day together.

As I walked the COVID+ halls for nearly four months, there would be twenty-five to forty patients on the units. Many of them were on breathing machines (or “vented”). Then we had a period when the number began to lower. For the past few weeks an entire hallway with sixteen beds ready to receive patients has been blocked. There has not been a need to use these beds. At one point there were only nine COVID+ patients in the hospital. Two of these patients were on a vent.

Tonight, walking the halls and listening, there is a growing sense that things are changing again. This observation alerted me to the importance of preparing oneself, friends, families and colleagues for additional challenges in the future. Tonight, walking the COVID+ hallways I counted twenty-eight COVID+ patients. Three of these patients are on vents. Staff are wondering if, or when the sixteen-bed blocked unit will be re-opened and if that will be enough.

One of the most difficult things to do for those in healing professions is to listen to your own advice. How many times have you heard that nurses and doctors make the worst patients? Or pastors and chaplains are said to be really good at caring for the needs of others and really bad at caring for their own needs.

In this way, and in the spirit of modeling, I am going to try and follow the insights of chaplaincy and an essential component of what that means. During a spiritual care encounter where you are a compassionate presence who can keep your head when frequently the people around you cannot, the chaplain is also assessing the situation to try and bring forth in those you are serving whatever has given their lives hope, meaning and strength in previous times.

Following this train of thought, I must admit that the Bible, biblical truths, personal experience and “living realities” have given my life hope, meaning and strength. In my faith tradition, a “living reality” occurs when a biblical truth intersects with one’s personal life. That intersection then creates a new way of looking at and experiencing the world, and events that may be occurring in one’s life. A few examples: some may talk about the experience of a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), or a moment of unspeakable joy (Luke 1:44), or a time of endurance and hope (Romans 5:4), or a time of hearing God as a whisper in the wind (I Kings 19:12b), or a Damascus road conversion experience (Acts 9:1-22). Others might recall a time of unexpected forgiveness and new-life (John 7:53-8:11), or a time of unmerited love, which results in healing and wholeness (Luke 7:36-50), or a time for every season under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

I have a great job, and these are some of the living realities that I have heard others explain to me over my twenty-five years in ministry. Further, I have been blessed to have a few times in my own life when a biblical truth intersected with personal experience and then created a living reality.

Several years ago, during a difficult season, I changed my email account. I had experienced biblical truth moving from beautiful thought to a living reality through the intersection of personal experience a few times and I believed it would happen again.

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”                                                                                                                                        

I changed my email to be johnoneagleswings. This is based on Isaiah 40:31 “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I chose this new account not because this was my current reality. No, it was a very difficult season. However, I believed it would be true. I based this on previous times when biblical truths had become living realities. I did it to remind myself every time I received or sent an email of a biblical truth that I believed one day would become a living reality. This struggle lasted a few years and then it happened! Physical strength and energy returned. A new normal developed.

What has given your life hope, meaning and strength? If you are a part of a similar faith tradition as mine, has there ever been a time when a Biblical truth intersected with personal experience to create a living reality? Or, shared the experience with another so they may also find some hope, meaning and strength through its telling?

As we prepare for what is next during the Coronavirus pandemic, take time to prepare. Draw upon what gives you hope, meaning and strength, take time to renew your soul by still waters (Psalm 23:2-3) and work as a team and the strength known in friendship and teamwork.

For I believe there will be a time in the future when the biblical truth “there is a time for every season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) will be a living reality as we move from a “time to weep to a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) once again…

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