A large regional trauma center hospital (more than 1,000 beds) was located within the boundaries of my former parish. The hospital, while having a wonderful chaplain staff, did not have a Catholic priest on the staff and so we priests in the parish took care of the sick and dying, in addition to our usual parish responsibilities. Over the course of more than 13 years assigned to the parish, I easily saw more than 10,000 patients. Most who recovered, some who did not. For those individuals and their families who experienced the great passing on, it was a loss, a sorrow and especially when the young died, a tragedy.
As death drew on neigh, each family reacted differently; each patient reacted differently. I remember those who “died well” – people who were peaceful in death as they were at peace with life. I remember those who brought their bitterness to death’s door. I remember all the ones in between.
I can remember doing pastoral visit at the regional trauma center hospital and having my spirits lifted by a patient, at death’s door, whose peace, hope and faith filled the room. The nurses attending had the same experience. I remember the draining effect upon the nurses when the patient’s anger and bitterness filled the room. To a lesser extent, I encountered the same. While we talk about “pandemic fatigue” as a nation, one can only image the sheer and utter exhaustion of the nurses, doctors, technicians, aids and other health care workers at our local hospitals.
This morning I was drawn to think and remember all this after listening to a nurse from South Dakota whose tweet had gone viral in which she described her experience in the ICU as “a nightmare that doesn’t end” and “ a movie in which the credits never roll.” But as the infections grew in her home state and the ICUs began to be overrun with critically ill people, people with covid-19, she encountered people – not who were in denial about their dying, but people who refused to believe in was the coronavirus – because that was a hoax. It had to be flu, pneumonia, or lung cancer. They were consumed with anger so much so that the nurses were unable to help them find peace and unable to direct them to spend their time and energy on their families.
One can only speculate on the root and source of the anger; no doubt it is specific and particular to the individual. But I cannot help but think that in part it is a result of a cabal of people who traffic in rumor and outright deception – whose lies and misinformation fill some channels of social media. At the other end is an individual who, for their own reasons, chose to dwell in the echo chamber forming their perception around belief there was another cabal of people who were trying to scare people into believing coronavirus was real in order to strip citizens of their freedom and rights.
And now they are dying and being told the cause. The result is anger directed at the world, but focused on the caregiver.
Perhaps it is an isolated story. Hopefully not an increasingly recurring story. And in any event, let us all continue to pray for the sick and dying, their families, and especially for the health care workers on the front line of this nightmare. May the latter find rest and renewal for their ministry. May the former find rest in God’s bright glory.