Just a quick update, because I can’t bear to do much more. As a chaplain at a hospital in a small city in Northeast Wisconsin, I find more daily heartbreak now than even in the previous months of the pandemic, even during our peak months of November 2020-March 2021. The numbers are at least as high on our ICU and our general COVID unit. The difference is in the ages of the people who are dying, and of those who are closest to them. Last month, we saw many people in their 40’s dying. Young adults in their late teens and 20’s were their children, and seeing them try to figure out how to mourn was heart-wrenching. We saw every reaction one could imagine, from denial to self-blame to signs of deep depression.
This new month seems to be bringing us the deaths of patients in their 30’s. A couple of nights ago, a woman of 39 with two kids, ages 5 and 9, and a devastated husband. My colleague who responded after midnight when she took a nosedive gave the kids prayer blankets, and helped them gather up the drawings they made for their mom, which were taped up on the walls of her room. She was never aware of them in the last 10-14 days of her life, though, since she was intubated, sedated and paralyzed with medications. He offered the prayers her husband and family requested, and went home to try to rest, but that was interrupted a few hours later by a call to our sister hospital, where there were more deaths.
Now I am watching the pain of a family whose beloved husband and son is only 34, and isn’t going to live much longer, and that of a 31-year-old woman patient with three little kids and a very broken husband, parents and best friend, keeping vigil as we allow them in one at a time to spend time with the beloved one, wearing proper PPE, of course. It feels like a little taste of hell for them, I know, as well as for the poor exhausted nurses and respiratory therapists. It feels like this will never end. This is the first time I have seriously contemplated completely retiring. I have loved working part-time, but don’t know if I am up to the task of doing this for the long-term. I don’t know how our care team does it, with the physically challenging care, overtime, lack of breaks, and constant loss. We’ve lost several to other work settings, because this is just too much.
Please hope/pray for an end to this horror show. We are wrecking our health-care staff, and it doesn’t have to happen. That’s the hardest part, knowing that, had these folks chosen vaccination, their kids wouldn’t be motherless, their young spouses wouldn’t be widowed. The world has gone wrong, and the sorrow is everywhere. I am fortunate that I work only three days a week and one overnight on-call every week, but it’s still more than I can bear sometimes. Like today.