I don’t work in a Covid unit. I don’t have to wear an N-95 mask all day. But I do work in a hospital full of very sick people with rapidly increasing numbers of people with Covid 19.
This month a friend, and church member died from Covid 19.
At the hospital my nurse friends cry, take deep breaths, pray and go to work in a building full of men and women sick enough to be hospitalized with this virus. They perform high-risk treatments and provide personal care, putting themselves and their families at risk.
Nurses know how to minimize transmission of contagious disease. Preventing the spread of disease is a key pillar of our profession. We know that we don’t have to know exactly how coronavirus spreads and how long the incubation period is to enact practices for preventing the spread of this disease or any virus. Hospital nurses work in a world with contagious disease everywhere. And this hospital nurse has a message: Right now we all need to treat the world like a hospital.
In the hospital there are very sick people with Covid as well as people with strokes, heart attacks, injuries from trauma and more. Nurses, aides, housekeepers, doctors, respiratory therapists, imaging techs and all the above sick and injured people are in the same building. In the hospital we’re caring for patients, having meetings, making schedules, eating lunch, going to to the bathroom, etc. Life and death and the effort to push back death in the hospital carries on. How does it carry on?
We wash our hands, wear masks, distance ourselves, and then wash our hands again and again and again.
We do what we have to do to keep each other and our patients from getting sick with something we don’t see or feel but could be passing to someone else.
We were doing this before COVID and we’ll be doing it after.
This is how we must behave in the world right now. This is why we need to wear masks, and wash our hands frequently and keep our distance from others. When we go to Walmart or to church services. When we fill our cars with gas or visit a friend. This is how we must go about our business. This is how we must live in our communities with Covid 19.
It’s not easy, fun or fair. But it’s the best way we know to push back death and disease and care for one another.
I didn’t keep a journal during this pandemic. I wish I had. I find myself scrolling back through my iPhone calendar trying to figure out how many days we’ve been like this. Arizona “reopened” on May 15th. We’re eight days into gyms, restaurants and many retail stores being open for business. But life is by no means business as usual.
For me, as a nurse working in a hospital during this crisis, I have not experienced the shelter-in-place like so many have. The big changes in my family’s life has been having our two high school boys doing school at home via online learning and my husband being mandated to work from home until May 1st. The 2019-2020 school year officially ended yesterday. Not being able to hug my friends, pick up their kids, sit on the floor with elementary students and talk about Jesus and sing loud with them all on Sundays is by far the biggest area I’ve felt the impact of Covid-19.
I’ve been doing my shopping weekly for groceries and feed for my animals. People are shopping, some with mask, others without. To me it seems about a 50/50 split. I can now find toilet paper at Walmart and the pasta isle at Fry’s is almost back to being fully stocked. No one has harassed me for wearing my homemade mask. People have been polite and I’ve been thankful for the efforts of grocery clerks and cart runners who continue to serve me with a smile I can’t see. I may not see the smile, but the way their eyes sparkle as they nod makes me think the smile is there.
We aren’t big out-to-eat-ers so we haven’t tested the reopening of restaurants.
All in all, life feels fairly normal for my family. The strangeness is in the buzz on social media and news stations. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are tattered with anger, accusations, suspicion, conspiracy theory, blame and divisive politicizing. All those people I miss from church, see at the store, work with in the hospital, drive by running errands… they all have feelings and thoughts about all that has happened in the pandemic. A handful of them I’ve spoken to personally. And of those there’s a handful of differing opinions about what went wrong, who’s to blame, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, and where we go from here.
I’ve been listening to the audio version of the ESV translation of Ecclesiastes lately. I’m drawn to this long meditation on, “What’s the point of life?” This global pandemic has brought me face to face with my utter lack of control over life. As a Christian, I believe my God is good. Jesus showed me that. And if he’s God, and he’s good, I can just ride the wave of this pandemic and trust he’ll make everything right in the end. But it’s not that simple.
I can’t just ride the wave. People all around me are getting knocked out by the wave. Ecclesiastes reminds me that death comes to us all. Whether by Covid-19 or a car accident, cancer or coronary artery disease. Pick your reaper, either way, he’s coming. And you don’t even get to pick your reaper. So what am I to do with this life? It sometimes feels like all my concern for my neighbor, my desire to share Jesus with my friends, my heart-work to become more emotionally intelligent and aware of the logs in my eye, the work of loving a husband and raising men is for nothing.
Listening to Ecclesiastes I’m reminded that life is painful and sometimes seems fruitless. The point of it all is found in the God who made it and rules over it. Even there I find Ecclesiastes telling me to stop trying to figure out what God is doing, and do my work, be a good friend, be thankful, love my neighbor, enjoy my glass of wine, go outside, take in a sunset and laugh when the dog chases his tail.
Tonight I’m sitting on my back porch listening to a bird sing in one of our sissoo trees. The sky is a faint peach and grey, the aftermath of a blazing fiery orange sunset that was a few minutes ago. Tonight one of my friends is sick with Covid-19. His wife is scared. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and I pray my friend gets up feeling much better. Life with Covid-19 will go on. At least until the One who makes the sun rise says it’s all over.
I’m not a COVID-19 expert. But I have some thoughts as a nurse and a Christian about what should be driving our decisions during this pandemic.
I work as a nurse case manager in a local hospital in Sun City. I also serve on staff with my church as a kids ministry director. I am also an enneagram type nine. If you know anything about my personality type, you know these current circumstances can drive a person like me to stay in PJ’s all day and take lots of naps, avoiding news and decisions. Thankfully I serve as an essential worker and am teamed up with a wise church staff that doesn’t allow me to hide my head in a pillow while the world suffers.
Scary realities have to be faced. Less than ideal circumstances have to be accepted. Hard decisions have to be made.
As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Arizona has become more alarming, I’ve had friends, team members and coworkers ask me for advice about various decisions they need to make. I don’t have any specific do’s or don’ts that aren’t already recommended by the experts. But I do have a couple principals I believe should guide our decisions during this time.
Check your motives
There are things that need to be done that will come with risk. And there are things that don’t need to be done that will lead to loss. Evaluating what must be done and what we must accept as loss requires us to examine our motives.
As a Christian, I am compelled to love my neighbor as myself. I believe that Christ is risen and will raise me from the dead. I don’t have to fear. But I also must not test God or be foolish. Loving my neighbor right now may mean staying home. It also may mean taking the risk to enter another’s home or letting them enter mine because of the necessity of the need.
As a nurse, I can’t stay home. I must do all that I can to prevent the spread of this virus and still go to work. Entering my hospital puts me at risk, but as one coworker said, this is our time. I go to work not because the risk is low but because the well-being of my community depends on me showing up.
When trials like this come in our lives, it proves who we really are. The decisions we make during this pandemic will expose the ethic that underlies our choices. If fear is motivating you, you may hoard supplies, or refuse to go to work when you’re an essential worker. But love may also be why you’ve purchased large quantities of toilet paper or water. Maybe love motivates you to supply the needs of your neighbors who aren’t able to go to the store.
In a letter written by Martin Luther to a friend during the bubonic plague, Luther sums up the motivation that should drive Christians in times like these:
In the same way we must and we owe it to our neighbor to accord him the same treatment in other troubles and perils, also. If his house is on fire, love compels me to run to help him extinguish the flames. If there are enough other people around to put the fire out, I may either go home or remain to help. If he falls into the water or into a pit I dare not turn away but must hurry to help him as best I can. If there are others to do it, I am released. If I see that he is hungry or thirsty, I cannot ignore him but must offer food and drink, not considering whether I would risk impoverishing myself by doing so. A man who will not help or support others unless he can do so without affecting his safety or his property will never help his neighbor. He will always reckon with the possibility that doing so will bring some disadvantage and damage, danger and loss. No neighbor can live alongside another without risk to his safety, property, wife, or child. He must run the risk that fire or some other accident will start in the neighbor’s house and destroy him bodily or deprive him of his goods, wife, children, and all he has. –Martin Luther 1527 , Whether One May Flee From Deadly Plague from the Davenant Institute
Listen to experts
Friends have asked me questions like, “Is it OK to send a package if I have chronic respiratory issues?” And, “Is it OK to send cards and letters to those alone in hospitals and nursing homes?” And, “Is a drive-by caravan safe?” My answers mostly take us to what the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other local health experts say.
The agencies and people responsible for disseminating information about a pandemic like this may not have all the answers, but what they have is the best we have.
This week I overheard a friend opining that this pandemic is a conspiracy. With so much information coming out of the media, we are all watching and listening to even more opinions and voices than usual. It’s hard to know what to believe and who to believe. But as my pastor has pointed out, it is folly to fill in gaps of information with skepticism.
With this pandemic our norms are changing daily. What was OK to do last week is not OK this week. When it comes to gaps of information about what to do and not to do, we must trust that what the experts are telling us is the best thing we can do. And when it changes or we don’t understand, let’s fill in the gaps with grace. This is a place where as a Christian I again feel compelled to trust my God is in control.
So, who are the experts? The World Health Organization, CDC, state and county health departments are the best source of information we have right now about Covid-19. We need to make decisions in accord with their advice, not our favorite news commentator or social media post.
Here are links to some credible authorities, and their answers to many of our questions: