A Chaplain’s Perspective: Essay III: It’s Been Three Months

It’s Been Three Months

It’s been three months. It is hard to believe it has only been three months since we had the first COVID+ patient in the hospital. March 27th the coronavirus pandemic became real and for nearly two months we have consistently had between twenty-five to thirty-five COVID+ patients in Intensive Care beds in our hospital. As I write today marks exactly three months.

I work at a large 300 bed hospital in Columbus, Ohio. My primary assignment is the Emergency department where we average 2500 trauma cases and between 80,000-90,000 patient visits a year. I also cover assigned units. During the pandemic two of my units (thirty-two beds) have been assigned to only treat COVID+ patients. For myself, and the incredible team I work with the coronavirus is a very real part of every day.

The beginning point of every chaplain encounter with patients, families and staff is to be a compassionate presence who can keep your head when frequently the people around you cannot. In this way, a chaplain becomes acutely aware that there are times when the reality of the moment can be too much, and a patient or family can be overwhelmed with emotion and the ability to think is unattainable. Emotion can overload the cognitive brain; this can occur in times of crisis such as a new and very difficult diagnosis or the death of a loved one.

In the hospital I work the chaplain is called into these situations to be a calming, comforting, compassionate presence who can simply be with people as they absorb the emotions of the moment and are able to think more clearly. There are times a person’s cognitive brain can be “off- line” for minutes. At times this struggle can last for hours and on occasion, days. In each of these cases the chaplain seeks to journey with people until they can fully process, think with clarity and begin to envision a “new normal,” as difficult as that new normal might be.

The ferocity of the virus and the fear, frustration, and grief that it has brought to our collective “new normal” has created times when it is difficult to think clearly. You can even say that there are times when collectively it is hard to fully process the moment and think rationally.

Let me give an example: on June 11, 2020, Dr. Amy Acton, the Ohio Health Director resigned, largely due to many in the public raising criticisms and concerns against her leadership. Obviously, the virus and the collective human response has been a challenge economically for everyone and for some, a devastating reality.

At the same time, when we stop and think of the reason behind all the sacrifices made, we recall that the purpose for businesses closing, the loss of jobs and the stay at home guidelines was to flatten the curve so that the medical institutions were not overwhelmed by a tsunami of COVID+ patients. It was feared this type of flood could temporarily break the medical capabilities of a community, city or state which would lead to a huge surge of death and despair.

From my vantage point as a hospital chaplain, we were close to the breaking point. For a month or so we were very close to being overwhelmed. And the reality is we were not! We have always had enough beds, necessary medical equipment to take care of COVID+ patients and available staff to care for all the patients throughout the hospital.

In this way, the fact that Dr. Acton resigned on June 11, 2020 becomes puzzling for the stated goal of flattening the curve worked! And by flattening the curve we have collectively saved thousands of lives in the great state of Ohio!

Growing up in Ohio it comes naturally to compete with “that state up north”; football, basketball, chess, it does not matter. Beating MICHIGAN always feels good. So, lets compare the Ohio response to the Michigan response and the coronavirus.

Michigan has the tenth largest population 9,986,857 and is the eleventh largest state with 96, 713 square miles in the United States. Ohio has the seventh largest population 11,689,100 and is the 34th largest state with 44,825 square miles.

Logic would conclude that Ohio would experience more death due to the coronavirus than Michigan. Did this happen?

The truth revealed can be healing and empowering. To date Ohio has lost 2795 precious souls which correlates to 239 deaths per million. In the same period, Michigan has experienced 6133 deaths which correlates to 614 deaths per million.

Allow that to sink in and say a prayer. Thank a fellow Ohioan you have never met. The sacrifices made for each other have made an incredible difference!

This truth is reinforced when we compare Ohio to Pennsylvania, another neighboring mid-western state. Pennsylvania has the fifth largest population 12,801,989 and is the 33rd largest state with 46,054 square miles. In Pennsylvania 6616 people have died of the coronavirus which correlates to 517 deaths per million.

Logic would say we give a huge “Thank You” to Dr. Amy Acton and the state leadership that has guided us this far.

Prayer continues to be a tangible practice the chaplain can model to patients, families and staff. Prayer that reflects the truth that we are not alone, and that God is with us in the midst of it all. And once again the Monday morning prayer has changed to speak to the challenges of the day.

God is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Oh, good and gracious God, we give You thanks for the gift of this  beautiful day and all the possibility it brings at the same time there is so much turmoil in our world and communities; we are experiencing the first worldwide pandemic of our lifetimes which has brought enormous stress, death and grief. We are living through a time of social strife seeking to reflect a growing understanding of justice and praying this occurs in peaceful ways worthy of the Prince of peace.

In times of such anger, confusion, sacrifice and possibility  it is good to re-center ourselves in grace and truth.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Be with us, Oh God, throughout all the challenges this day may bring and within all the anger, grief, confusion, sacrifice and  possibility of this time.

Continue to guide us, Oh God, and give us the wisdom to draw upon Your guidance.For there is a time for every season under heaven. Continue to lead us to a time of peace and laughter. In Your precious name we pray.


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