Providing spiritual guidance and comfort to the sick is the daily calling of a hospital chaplain’s job. Holding someone’s hand to let them know they aren’t alone. Sitting next to a patient in pain. Offering words of encouragement. The goal of their work hasn’t changed, but how they go about their jobs in the wake of the coronavirus has.
"Oh, our world has been turned upside-down just like everyone else’s," said chaplain David Carl, the executive director with Spiritual Care at Atrium Health.
"For the first time in my 45 year career as a chaplain we are now wearing scrubs and masks," Carl said. "I’ve always been a shirt-and-tie chaplain, but in this day and age it’s scrubs and masks so we can protect ourselves and protect our families when we go home. But the good news is that even though we wear masks, the compassion can still come through. While it hides our face to some degree, kindness can still be instilled."
Those masks are surgical masks, not N-95 masks.
And even though that kindness can’t be administered with human touch, it’s coming through at a social distance.
"So instead of being right at the bedside, many times our chaplains are standing at a distance, standing at the doorway," Carl said. "Prayer can be offered non-locally, blessings can be offered without touch."
Chaplains are also communicating with patients via FaceTime or phone calls. And they’re helping facilitate that virtual communication with patients and their families. It’s not uncommon for a chaplain to pass along a message from a family member to a patient, or vice versa. Part of the job includes caring for the family of the sick.
Recently, Carl counseled a woman who felt an immense amount of guilt for not being able to visit her loved one in the hospital. And she felt something many of us are experiencing in this uncertain time: Fear.
"I’m not saying fear is a bad emotion, it is a wonderful emotion when we are in danger," Carl said. "But we aren’t created to live in it. And that's a piece of what she was experiencing. She starting to live in her fears and to live in her guilt. So (I offered) some gentle invitation to bring some balance to that."
He's encouraging caregivers and family members to show compassion for themselves. To take deep breaths, to go out and do one thing every day that brings them joy. And he’s also prescribing that for his fellow chaplains and healthcare workers. Atrium Health's Code Lavender initiative is a program designed to combat burnout and compassion fatigue -- which he says can be felt from the clinicians to the hospital cleaning crew.
"One of our mantras is 'self care leads to best care,'" he said. "So we do what we call Lavender Rounding where we go by and check in on staff, measure with them how it’s going, asking them not only what stresses they are facing but also what silver linings they are seeing today. Have they seen anything that has brought any glimmer of joy?"
That compassion fatigue and burnout is important to keep a pulse on. In his 45-year career, the coronavirus outbreak is a more heightened level than anything he’s experienced before.
"It’s a more deadly virus than what’s been seen before," Carl said. "We are used to being with people, comforting people even as they face death, and again remind them that healing comes from our bodies. But also healing comes when we die, that’s another huge lesson I think that this holy season is reminding us of -- that there is life after death and that we are bottom-line spiritual beings who just happen to be having a human experience in this temporary, able body for as long as we happen to be on this planet."
As he reflects on the holy season currently upon us -- Easter Sunday, Passover, and Ramandan later this month -- he’s hoping these holidays will provide a pause for reflection.
"I don’t want to make it sound that the coronavirus and these high holy days have the same purpose, but something that they are reminding us is that we are human, after all, and that we are not as much in control as we might have thought," Carl said. "As we are surrounded by disease and even death in huge numbers, the beauty of this time of year as an antidote is to remember how deeply are spiritually can create a different type of emotional virus that’s called love, that’s called compassion."
That antidote of love and compassion is the emotional virus he hopes will become contagious. That’s the type of virus he hopes will spread.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, all of our lives have changed in some way. Maybe that means you’re working from home for the first time or having to put off a major life event like a wedding or funeral.
It might mean you’re out of work, taking an unexpected financial hit … or juggling work while having your kids at home
In our series Social Distancing, WFAE’s Sarah Delia speaks with you, our listeners about the challenges you’re facing. WFAE is trying to do its best to work remotely, so the majority of this series, including the interviews, are being done from Sarah’s dining room table.
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