Anne Petratis, one of our Catholic hospital chaplains, shares her thoughts and experiences in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things are different now working in the hospital with the COVID-19 outbreak that has reached the United States. As a hospital chaplain, I serve six hospitals in the Dayton area: Kettering, Grandview, Southview, Sycamore Kettering Behavioral Health and Soin Medical Center.
Ministering before the pandemic
If I look back at life just a few weeks ago serving these six hospitals, there have been many changes. Our hospitals were full, and we were weathering a rough flu season with lots of patients in the rooms and lots of people with pneumonia and in isolation. Volunteers were coming into Kettering Hospital bringing Communion to the patients and staff every day. A rotation of area priests came in every day of the week to offer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I was joined by Fr. Basil from Sacred Heart, Vietnamese Community in Dayton and we would come and go as we needed in between all the hospitals, as we always did for our ministry.
Greeted by the hospital staff wearing gloves and masks
Now, just a few weeks later in an effort not to spread COVID-19, we received word from the hospital that all the volunteers had to be furloughed. They were no longer allowed to come to the hospital to visit patients. All priests that came in to offer anointing were no longer allowed to make visits. Priests are now only called for dire emergencies.
Visiting patients now begins by going to the hospitals and being greeted by the hospital staff wearing masks and gloves. I am directed to wash my hands and use hand sanitizer. I am asked a series of questions about fever and if everyone that I live with at home is healthy. My temperature is taken and I am asked for my badge number before I am allowed entry to visit patients. Several times throughout my day I travel between the different hospitals where I go through this same routine each time.
I visit patients and have conversations with them from 6 feet away. My parish has generously made arrangements for me to be able to pick up Communion to bring to the patients I visit in the hospital, so I am able to bring communion to those who are able to receive it.
The hardest thing for me to adjust to right now is not being able to embrace as we normally would during a visit. It is typical to take a patient’s hand and offer a prayer for them as they are getting ready to go to surgery. If a staff person, a patient or a family member is upset and in distress, the most natural thing to do is to put a hand on their arm or shoulder to provide support. It is normal to give them a hug and let them know that you are thinking about them and praying for them.
I understand the need for distancing to prevent the spread of disease, but it is hard to not reach out and provide comfort. The challenge is to provide that support, love and care through your voice and words and prayer, asking that God’s love and healing and presence support this person and hold them up during this painful time.
Working with the families of the patients in the hospital
Another difficult aspect is that no visitors are allowed into the hospital. No family members can visit except when their loved one is dying or on the day of a serious surgery, or if a baby is being delivered. These are the only exceptions. Usually a lot of our ministry is working with the families of the patients in the hospital. We visit them and provide a lot of support.
Now we are providing support to them by phone. I call them and speak with them about their loved one’s situation. If the patient is not able to speak or is in isolation, I learn about parish information and needs from their family at home. I give the family my mobile number, so they can call if they have any special needs or concerns. Many family members call back and just need to talk through the sadness and the anxiety they have about not being able to be physically there for their mom or dad who is alone in the hospital.
It is wonderful to be able to try and visit that patient on behalf of their family to provide some needed support. To be able to provide Communion and prayer and to let the patient know how much their family is thinking of them and wishing that they could be here with them at this time.
We appreciate your prayers
Over the past few weeks, people have sent me texts and emails offering prayers for all those who work in the hospitals during this difficult time. All hospitals, nurses, doctors, social workers, respiratory therapists, housekeeping staff, food service staff, administrators, and chaplains all need your prayers.
Your prayers are appreciated as we continue to work to respond compassionately to those we serve. Please keep the prayers coming our way! We will need them greatly in the weeks to come.