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The Radiance of SCJM Charism in the face of Covid-19! (Continued)

Anglo-Irish Region

The hospital management where I work as a Chaplain began its preparation for the possible devastating impact of the Coronavirus in January 2020.

In February I began to realise the seriousness of this disease when all staff, including myself received training in the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). It was this training, together with news from the WHO that I began to realise the seriousness of the disease.

We all had to help each other during this time. Waves of fear were palpable among all staff including senior consultants. Many felt that they would rather be anywhere else but working in the hospital environment. However, in a strange way there is power in this fear and we helped each other in confronting this fear. … The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu written in 1931 were inspiring. “All of us experience fear but when we confront and acknowledge it, we are able to turn it into courage. Being courageous do not mean never being scared; it means acting as you know you must even though you are undeniable afraid.”

As a Chaplain I received many requests for prayers. When a very dedicated staff member who got infected began to recover, many expressed their renewed belief in the power of prayer and gave thanks.

All staff now wear Protective Clothing Equipment (PPE). These suits are incredibly difficult to wear and work in. We have to help each other to dress and even more importantly help each other to undress out of them. The fear of picking up infection or passing on infection is a big worry and challenging.

My role at this time is very varied: visiting the ward each day, organising the sacrament of anointing for patients, supporting relatives and staff, helping staff dress in PPE... we are all in this together, colleagues supporting one another.

Communicating a caring, compassionate presence is a vital role for nurses, doctors, social workers and chaplains in caring for patients and family. The inability to do so in the usual manner when wearing this PPE ‘goes against the grain’. This caring presence can and is so difficult when dressed in this way. Simple eye contact is difficult when goggles being worn are all steamed up. How the patients and families are experiencing this and what the patients think of us has not yet been revealed. But it must be one of great fear.

In the midst of this very stressful situation, small act of kindness and concern for staff working on the front line here at the hospital goes a long way to brighten the otherwise very difficult day. The public are so generous to us at the hospital, giving money, bring food, supplying PPE, providing toasters, kettles, coffee makers, bottled of water. The staff feel their support and all these acts of generosity help to make life a little easier for staff.

Prayer has become a much more important part of the support and healing within the hospital. The small prayer team I invited to pray in our hospital oratory includes our local Priests, Church of Ireland Minister, our Bishop and myself was a response to this need. Each of them felt privileged to be invited to help the staff who feel supported and held in prayer. For the seven days each week, one of the prayer team is in the oratory praying for those affected by the virus.

A candle of staff solidarity remains burning night and day for all those whose lives we touch in the course of our work at this difficult time. Many staff have commented on how they feel supported in this prayer.

Visiting to the hospital is limited now to those in the final hours of life and now part of end of life care. We can only allow two visitors per family at the moment. All family members visit in the knowledge that they could pick up the virus. They all must also wear full protective equipment, which adds to their distress.

I spend time each day making contact with bereaved families, whose loved ones have died as a result off Covid-19. Most report on how sad they felt about not being able to say goodbye. This and the lack of ritual of a funeral and the customary support from other family member and friends make this time very distressing indeed. They experience a lonely and isolating time. This makes the process of grieving very difficult and complicated.

I question myself: What is this virus communicating to us? Will we understand the lessons we have to learn? Maybe our wonderful environment is speaking to us now loud and clear.

To conclude, I try to stay in the moment because if I look to the near future where scientists are still struggling to find a vaccine and our people are dying … I do feel fear.

However, I do feel that our government leaders and medical personnel are showing great leadership in their management of our country. They keep us informed each day of what their plans are, the direction and decisions that they were making in the light of what is best practice and what the WHO is recommending. This kind of leadership has been so welcomed and respected by the people of Ireland. We feel we are in safe hands and all citizens are being cared for with great respect.

The support I feel from my Sisters in the Region is just wonderful. This is a great strength for me in my ministry. I feel proud to be a Sister of Charity of Jesus and Mary as I stand in solidarity and hope with all our sisters around the world at this time in history in the congregation united together in prayer and love.

(Sent by Sr. Mary Lalor)

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