Scenes From A Pandemic Leave A Lasting Impact

Priest giving last rites

Photo by The New York Times

Rev. Chris Yost, senior pastor at Wesley UMC Greenville, shares his account of praying with patients, families and caregivers at a local hospital

About six weeks ago, our local hospital sent out a countywide appeal to clergy to come pray over the ICU patients and staff and the COVID Unit. Since then, I have gone every Monday from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.  and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. My mission was to pray over the patients, with any families who wanted to pray together and check on staff in between their frenetic work. 

I was asked to share the following after talking to a group of fellow United Methodist clergy. If you take nothing else from this, know this: Our healthcare providers are walking through the valley of the shadow of death every day, every hour, for months on end. Is God with them?

This is the abridged experience I had with them. This occurred in less than 60 minutes. This is every day for them.

***

Chris YostThere was no usual “check in” at the ICU nurses station; it was too busy. I waved, the charge nurse acknowledged me, and I started praying outside the negative pressure rooms housing COVID-19 patients.

Within a few minutes, one nurse stopped me and said, “Oh good, you are the pastor right?”

“Yes, how are you today?” I asked.

Her eyes squinted, revealing a smile behind her mask. “The man in room 8 is going right now. We have given him what we can to keep him alive for his family to arrive. He’s not going to make it. Will you go pray with him?”

“Absolutely.”

She raced off down the hall saying, “Thank you so much, you do not know what this means to us.”

I donned the PPE and entered to see his last faint attempts to gasp for air … this was a prayer of thanksgiving for whatever life he had among us; he was already gone. 

***

It seemed 3 minutes later the same nurse popped in to say, “We need you in 4 right now. She is dying, there is family with her and they asked for someone to pray.”

“Do I switch out PPE?” I asked.

“Yes” barely made it to my ears before the door closed behind her. I removed the gear and donned another set to enter 4 – these nurses do this multiple times an hour, I thought.

Sure enough, her heart was on the AV node generated beat. Her daughter and two others surrounded her with fogged up face shields Their masks were soaking wet from tears and stuffy noses. Others were on a compassion iPad joining remotely to witness their loved one’s passing. I prayed with the family.

A short time later, we walked out together clumsily removing gear and talking. The hospital chaplain, Rev. Bill Shaddox, arrived to be with them. I introduced them and continued on my rounds.

***

I walked around the corner to see the ICU shift nurse in the closed end of the hall, facing a man whose arms were flailing about. He was yelling about not wanting to hear what she was saying. The first few weeks, I heard multiple stories of family members getting rough with staff. I drew near in a way that would make the man take notice of me. It also created the need for him to shift his body position so he was no longer blocking the nurse’s way.

“Who are you!?”

“I am a clergyman here to check on you.”

With a yellow sticky note in one hand, he pointed aggressively with his other index finger nearly yelling, “I want you to find this son of a b**** doctor so I can kick his a**.  He just told my son he has a 1% chance of living off the ventilator and 5% if he goes on it. I want a piece of him.”

This was a classic case of the doctor and nurses speaking facts to a person who did not need facts, but someone to understand: his 41-year-old son was dying and he had nothing but a sliver of hope left.

“It seems like you feel the information reported directly to your son like that felt like they were taking away his hope,” I said with all the empathetic compassion I could muster.

“You’re G*d d*mn right they did!”  

“As a father, we would do anything to spare our kids this kind of suffering” I said. 

“My son doesn’t need to hear this, tell me, not him.”

Tears streamed down his face as he balled up the yellow sticky note and put it in his pocket. (His son, a father of five including a newborn, passed away over the following weekend.) 

***

I left the ICU and made my way upstairs. I approached the nurse's station to see a younger nurse visibly disturbed. They had a 50-something-year-old man who walked to his room 48 hours before plummet with COVID and died.

Our conversation did not suffer much chit chat. She quickly reported how she felt: “There is so much pain. I feel so much pain. Some of these people hate us, I can feel it.” She has her hand over her solar plexus.

I asked her if she believed she “felt people,” as in she could sense things about people without anything being said.

She said with relief and exasperation, “Yes, I am so tired of feeling all of this pain. It hurts.” 

For the record, I have never entered into such a spiritually deep and intuited conversation this fast in my life. In less than 5 minutes, I was talking about the gift of feeling people like this.

“The way I understand it is this is a gift, although I have not always considered it a gift. I equate it with a door or a valve. While I have found I do not have much control when 'it is open' or when 'it is closed,' the direction of the ‘flow’ can be up to us. In other words, if we feel such things coming into us from people, we can ‘tap into’ the presence of God and that gift of God’s presence can also flow out of us.”  

We spoke about patterns of prayer that can keep us “filled up” with God so when the “door opens, we can let that flow out.”  I did not know what else to say, except to offer what someone would have said to me 20 years ago when I noticed a similar phenomenon.    

***

Here are some other interactions to consider:

“We are fine so far. The day shift really had it bad. They lost five, we lost a dozen over the weekend.”

“The first round was almost all people who had had a good life. It just may have been time for them. These are young people this time. These are my best friends’ husbands, siblings, my friends. I went to school with these people (30- to 40-year-olds). I can’t save them.”

“I am so sick and tired of people talking on TV and social [media] about what they know. They do not know anything! I wish we could do tours down here [ICU] and let them see what is happening. It does not take long to see, this is hell. This is real.”

“I am just numb. I guess this is just the way it is. We save people, we can’t save these people.”

“Everyone except one is unvaccinated. This is ALL preventable.”

“I am in the grind now. I just have to accept these people don’t get it. Then we care for them, because it’s not like we will not care for them. They just don’t have to go like this … but, yes, we are going to do everything we can to save them.”

“We’ll keep doing all we can. I’m a nurse, I will give everything to everyone. It’s not enough, but we’ll keep giving it all.”


Published: Wednesday, September 15, 2021


 
33 Comments
Added by Alice

Thank you, Chris, and all who enter these painful places to be with those who suffer - whether giving or receiving care. May God be with you, in your words and in your heart, to heal and restore, guide and comfort, give hope and help.
Added by Darrell Ortiz, NCD LSM Director

Chris, you have walked the halls at the most difficult time in our lives. You offer to others that which you might need one day. You thank God for allowing you to enter these families and offer some solace. You offer an ear and your heart. Some pain cannot be silenced regardless what you offer. I lift you up brother for you are in the throes of battle. Henri Nouwen wrote "The Wounded Healer." On the battle lines, there is more than one type of wounded healer. Bless you my brother.
Added by Timothy Dooley

I hope people never have to experience the pain of taking a loved one off the equipment keeping them “alive” and holding their hand as they pass. It was experience I will never forget. My prayers are with the staff at the hospital, I don’t know how they do it.
Added by RG Dallas

Chris thank you for sharing these stories. Are there volunteer opportunities available for non-clergy?
Added by Dawn Anderson, Associate Pastor at Lovers Lane UMC

Thank you, Chris, not only for being there for all these folks, but for sharing with us. May God bless you as you minister.
Added by Rev. Andy Lewis

Thank you, Chris, for your ministry in the hospital and for sharing these stories. Hearing the words of the staff makes me even more thankful for and in awe of our healthcare workers.
Added by Anonymous

Such a difficult task for the medical staff and our pastors. God Bless you all.
Added by Anonymous

Thank you Chris. I have many Dr. and Nurse friends who are suffering at the hands of this disease. They are healers and feel utterly helpless in the Covid units. They not only suffer that fact that alot of their patients will die, but they suffer in the hallways and at home. Many of them are seperated from family because they cannot spread the virus at home. Many of my friends have had to rent housing together away from their children and spouses. Pictures posted of tears through windows have been seen. I pray for their peace and comfort only God can give them. I lift them daily as well as all who have the virus. Thank you for sharing this story. People do not realize the pain our Medical staffs endure daily, the fatigue, and anger. God bless you in this work. Much love to you and yours!
Added by Evangeline Cannon, retired Mo Conference

God bless you as you minister to folks in the hospital. I am sending a prayer for you, Chris.
Added by Anonymous

Chris, thank you for making the time to be in the ICU with the patients and their families and also for the medical teams. Thank you for sharing.
Added by Sandra Stewart

Thank you for sharing this story.
Added by Betty

Chris, thank you. You are doing God's work. May He be with you each and every minute of every day.
Added by Joseph Henderson

Thank you for your words. May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you and all other clergy and hospital staff during this trying time.
Added by Karen Spore

Chris, thank you for ministering to all of these people in their incredible times of need. I would love to paste this account into my Facebook account and that of our church, Friendship UMC in Sherman, where my husband Roy is pastor. I think it is a story so many people need to hear.

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Editor's note: Yes, you have permission to share this story.
Added by Anonymous

Thank you, Chris, for the blessing you are giving to these people so in need of hope and peace. May God bless you as you go about your days.
Added by Kellie Sanford

Chris, thank you for your ministry of presence during this critical time in the lives of caregivers/medical teams and families. You’ve provided a gentle barrier in the midst of chaos and crisis. Saying thank you, doesn’t seem like enough, but I thank you for your pastoral spirit to care for strangers during this terrible Covid season that doesn’t seem to end.
May God sustain you, guide you, and hold you as you find ways to carry a small fraction of the burden our healthcare workers are experiencing.
God bless you, dear one.

May I have your permission to share these stories?

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Editor's note: Yes, you have permission to share this story.
Added by Anonymous

Thank you Chris! Praying for the doctors and nurses! So much suffering.
Added by Jodi Smith

Thank you for your presence and prayers with the patients, families and the staff. I cannot even imagine how difficult this is to deal with nonstop.
Added by Anonymous

Chris, thank you for your ministry of presence during this critical time in the lives of caregivers/medical teams and families. You’ve provided a gentle barrier in the midst of chaos and crisis. Saying thank you, doesn’t seem like enough, but I thank you for your pastoral spirit to care for strangers during this terrible Covid season that doesn’t seem to end.
May God sustain you, guide you, and hold you as you find ways to carry a small fraction of the burden our healthcare workers are experiencing.
God bless you, dear one.
Added by The Brysons

Chris, thank you so much for ministering to these folks who are so ill, their families and to the medical staff. Our prayers are with you in doing Gods work.
God bless you.
Added by Anonymous

Chris prayers for you as you administer to sick, and medical personnel.
Added by Rev. Jim Rowland, retired member of Arkansas Conf.

Chris, I am a retired United Methodist and former Hospital Chaplain living in North Arkansas. Oddly enough, I had not considered making myself available to the local hospitals here in Northwest Arkansas. I also substitute teach at the High School level. Your words reminded me of my years as a healthcare Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care. "Compassion fatigue" is real with medical personnel and your willingness to be a presence and empathetic listener is a wonderful ministry to those so overworked and overstressed. God Bless you!
Added by Anonymous

I read this story with tears in my eyes. I know the appreciation nurses get when they are prayed for, to do your best and not achieve what you want is upsetting, knowing that you have done your best is comforting to, that is all you can do.
Added by Anonymous

Thank you. Prayers for you as well.
Added by Anonymous

I am a physician. I don't work inpatient, so I don't see this suffering first-hand. I see the lucky ones, the long-termers, who made it through to discharge (sometimes home, sometimes to a nursing home or assisted-living). I have no other words ... this article has tears streaming down my face. Blessings to one and all.
Added by Kim French

Thank you, Chris. I’m sharing this in hopes this message will reach others. Please convey to the medical teams you see that we are praying for them.
Lord, hear our prayers.
Kim
Added by Anonymous

Thank you for sharing this transparent experience of the work that is being done in hospitals around the world. May God's presence be felt in them all.
Added by Jill, RN Shift Manager, ICU

Thank you for sharing. Your presence in the ICU is uplifting, your kind words and heartfelt prayers relieve some of the heavy burden we are bearing. Thank you for your faithfulness. From the nurse cornered at the end of the hall.
Added by Chris Yost

Thank you all for your words of support and prayers! I will pass it all along to the folks who need it the most at the hospital. God bless you all and thank you for helping tell their story.
Added by Anonymous

Thank you for your blessing so many people with your God given presence and gift of listening and compassion.
Added by Robert Moulton

Thank you. Being married to a nurse, I hear things like this all the time. Not COVID necessarily, but people in pain, fighting to retain some control over their lives, facing deep loss or final loss. Because good nurses DO give everything, I have to be the lifeline (well, part of it anyway), making sure she remembers to take care of herself too. So many good people are leaving the profession now, and very few are coming up to take their places.
Added by Melanie

Thank you for sharing this, Chris. More people need to see and hear this perspective. I heard nearly identical stories today from a dear friend and ICU nurse. She lost her mother to Covid right after Christmas. This week she decided to leave the grief support group she has been in because so many don’t understand all that our medical professionals are living through right now. They are wrongfully blaming the nurses and doctors who, in her words, “. . . do everything we can to help them, and pray for each one - that they survive when our own loved ones did not.”

I’m so glad you are there to comfort the patients and families, and also the staff of that hospital. And I’m so thankful you shared this.
Added by Jill Grisham

Bless you!
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