Hospital Chaplaincy - ministry in the Covid-19 pandemic: Reverend Sarah J. Wright

Reverend Sarah J. Wright

I am a hospital chaplain based at Bradgate Mental Health Unit and Glenfield Acute Hospital.

At both hospitals we have now moved from initially visiting patients on an emergency-call-out only basis, back to almost regular visiting patterns.

Glenfield Acute Hospital has moved to become a hospital with two adult intensive care units (AICU), 11 wards for Covid-19 patients, two wards designated purely for cardiac, one for breast cancer and one empty ward.  These changes mean nursing and medical staff have moved wards and changed disciplines, and have made difficult choices to leave home and to not visit family members, in order to protect them.

The initial level of anxiety within the ward staff was very high and the staff were emotionally upset and drained as patients died one after another. It was very evident that our primary role as chaplains had to be to support ward staff and to support the wider hospital team - especially bereavement services, the mortuary team and the palliative care team.

We have worked to provide a physical presence beside hospital staff across all disciplines and teams and we have provided wellbeing support, a listening ear as needed, and copies of The Pause to every ward.

The Pause, which last about 30 seconds, is taking a moment to acknowledge the life of the person who died, and mark the shift of going on to treat the next patient.

Generally, what is said, is:

“Before we leave the room, could we just take a moment to stop as a group and honour this person that was in the bed? Before they came here, they had a life, and they had family. They were loved, and they loved other people.

“Let’s take that time to recognise that right now, and also take the time to honour and recognise the efforts we put in to try to save them, and do that in such a way in silence so that we can each have our own voice.”

Having completed full personal protective equipment (PPE) training, I can attend emergency calls to patients diagnosed with Covid-19. The patients I see are at various stages within the illness. Some are on oxygen, some on CPAP (continuous, positive, airway, pressure) and some on ventilators in the AICU. In response to emergency call outs by staff, I have provided Prayers of Commendation for patients who were dying in all three of these stages.

I think we have all been touched by the awfulness of patients dying alone. Families are advised that one member can come in to be with a dying relative, but then they will need to totally isolate for 14 days afterwards, so a lot of the time when we are called out there is no family there.

Speaking to patients, family members and staff when you are wearing PPE is tough, as you lose the nuances of facial expressions.

One dying patient was on CPAP when I was called to see them. I was helped into full PPE by the ward staff, including FFP3 mask, goggles, full sleeved gown and gloves, which have to be worn so they come over the cuffs of the gown. Remaining at a 6ft distance, I led Prayers of Commendation, with no family present. At this stage, the patient was conscious and able to indicate thanks. They later died.

I was asked to see another patient who had just been stepped down from a long stay on AICU, where he had been on a ventilator. He was in his early 40s, married with two young children, and that day, via Skype, was the first time he had seen or spoken to his family since being admitted to hospital. It was very emotional.

He explained that it would take a lot for him to be well enough to go home. He had no muscle strength, having been lying in a bed for weeks, and it was a huge effort for him to lift his right arm, get his hand onto the top of the table and reach a cup of water. Still, his hand could not grasp it.

We spoke of the journey, and how we can send ourselves notes of encouragement to read when things are tough. We also spoke of how, for him, getting his hand to the cup is the equivalent of an athlete winning a gold medal.  He smiled and tried again, this time doing a sports commentary.  He was so pleased I sat chatting with him and I will keep visiting him, until he is discharged home.

It’s important to remember that of the hospitalised patients, twice as many go home than die.

God is still guiding us to the people who need us, be that in the corridors or in the queue at the shop. God is also opening a way for communication where it was difficult before. We are having deep conversations with every level of medical staff including doctors, consultants and management.

How is God helping me? I am not afraid. The things that offer me relief and support right now are virtual church services, the support from friends on Facebook, a card from the Bishop to say that I had been prayed for at Bishop’s Lodge, my cats, my daughters on Messenger, watching lots of Marvel movies and my garden.

First published on: 5th May 2020
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