“Aren’t you afraid?” “What is it like these days for you at the hospital?” “Are you okay?” I frequently encounter questions like these from my family and friends, while at the same time they are personally coping with the realities they face during this pandemic. Mostly everyone knows someone who has taken ill with the coronavirus, and the news provides daily statistics—locally, nationally, and internationally. The plight of people in far-away lands comes to our awareness through broadcasts on television and the Internet. Stories of hardships in local families and communities touch us deeply. How do we draw inspiration in such times of turmoil?
I am a registered nurse and work at a local hospital. My clinical role as a nurse case manager means I am only a few feet away from patients with COVID-19—either in ICUs or in step-down units—together with the physicians and nurses devoted to their medical needs. While I don’t provide hands-on care but instead focus on discharge planning and arranging community resources for COVID-19 positive patients, my heart is ever present as I overhear physicians phoning family members to deliver sensitive medical updates.
While everyone at the hospital wears masks veiling facial expressions, we have learned to listen carefully to familiar voices and to read the body language of colleagues for the tales they tell. The situations we find ourselves in are at times positive and at times grave, and we empathize with the many families unable to be at the bedside of loved ones during the current visitor restrictions.
We have learned to be lovingly present as we reach out to worried family members, and I am touched by the many expressions of gratitude and appreciation I have received as I make phone calls during my work day. Recently I listened to a tearful coworker speak of personal hardships and feeling helpless in light of the magnitude of pain and loss in her family and circle of friends, and it dawned on me that if we “can’t be with the ones we love, we need to love the ones we’re with.” While I am also personally affected by travel bans which keep me far away from loved ones—particularly my dear mother who lives overseas—I am soothed by stories of kindness extended to her by local family, friends and even strangers. The sadness and helplessness which I have felt over not being at her side in these times of need have given way to hope and gratefulness. There are many rays of sunshine in these dark skies.
At work I have been struck by the outpouring of genuine gratitude from the community which is celebrating healthcare workers as heroes. While we have chosen careers to serve those in need and this is our norm, I am touched by the many signs of caring and appreciation. When I walk from the parking ramp to the hospital entrance there are hand-drawn signs of Faith and Hope with big red hearts taped on the glass doors. Painted rocks are strewn along the walkway with children’s artful expressions of encouragement and colorful messages depicting words like love, peace and thank you. One day we found purple and yellow pansies planted in clusters by the hospital entrance with thank you cards on stakes, gleaming in the sunlight.
Places of worship, businesses and private donors send flower bouquets to medical units with sweet notes of appreciation, together with boxed meals and snacks for the staff. Carnations in attractive vases have been placed in patient rooms to cheer them up. We even have a TLC team whose members spend time with lonely patients and sit by their beds or offer a warm word of encouragement. Designated staff members reach out in support and pray with those who request it. All these outpourings serve to show our humanity in these tumultuous times.
Heart-studded hospital casements in rainbow hues have become like modern-day stained glass windows reminiscent of the uplifting ornate designs of cathedrals of old, infusing light with heavenly beauty and proclaiming messages of infinite perfection and protection. Somehow this devastating virus is bringing out the best in us, a reminder of what we cherish, what sustains us and the deeper meaning of life.
Our administrators have been amazing in organizing the hands-on response to the virus, and are mindful of the strain healthcare workers are enduring in these stressful times. For example, they have arranged for our music therapists to perform for staff and patients throughout the hospital, their sweet voices offering moments of solace for everyone. One of the skyway’s windows is studded with inspirational quotes framed with pastel-colored paper by leaders such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Maya Angelou, speaking of the power of teamwork, hope, having a vision to overcome hardship, the impact of kindness and a smile, and the importance of perseverance.
As I walk through this section of the hospital, I imagine my glance stirring the inner meaning of these wise words and releasing them to the skies to inspire others. And as the shadows of the papers fall on the ground, they look like notes on large sheets of music sounding melodies of healing. I have rarely experienced such support and thoughtfulness amidst the heart wrenching hardships typically encountered in hospitals. Online webinars are being offered dealing with stress management coaching for mind, body, and spirit. Topics include relaxation techniques, the power of meditation, positive self-talk, resilience in times of change, and managing stress with exercise and yoga.
In French there is a saying, les extrêmes se touchent or “the extremes meet.” While the world is pulling together on so many fronts to conquer this deadly coronavirus, we are reminded that we can cultivate a vision of hope in our personal lives. We can learn to find peace in the midst of challenges through prayer and meditation, and we can be present and help others while finding ways to replenish ourselves. Ultimately this invisible foe is reminding us that we are not all alone: We are full of deep potential and the ability to make great contributions through humble means.