Coronavirus, compassion and care: The isolation and loneliness is just harrowing

The virus has robbed people of spending time with their dying loved one and robbed them of being able to say goodbye

People respect the safety distance as they attend a funeral service. Photograph:  EPA/Alessandro Di Marco

People respect the safety distance as they attend a funeral service. Photograph: EPA/Alessandro Di Marco

 

I am a healthcare chaplain in Tallaght University Hospital and, as with hospitals all over Ireland and indeed the world, we have been confronting the Covid-19 crisis. Of the many emotions that patients, families and staff have been facing the biggest one is fear. It is ever present.

More than ever, patients feel vulnerable and almost abandoned as family members cannot visit. Patients who have Covid-19 do not know what is going to happen and the fear of the unknown is very frightening.

They are surrounded by healthcare workers wearing personal protective gowning and not a face to be seen. I know how hard it is to sustain eye contact and a calm voice when you are impeded by goggles and a mask.

Shauna Sweeney is a healthcare chaplain of Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese

Patients’ families sit at home worrying about their loved one, wondering when or even if they will ever see them again. They also worry for their own health as they too might have Covid-19 or that, if they go to the hospital, they may contract it there.

Hospital staff are putting themselves at risk caring for the patients, because that is what they do and they love what they do. They have also sacrificed being able to go home for fear of passing on the virus to their families. Their compassion is amazing and they really are heroes.

I have journeyed with and supported many families over the last few weeks whose loved ones have died from Covid-19 or other illnesses.

The virus has robbed people of spending time with their dying loved one, robbed them of being able to say goodbye, robbed them of mourning, and robbed their communities of a chance to say goodbye.

Keepsake love hearts

As a chaplain it is my role to give compassionate care to people in the hospital and to try my best to support patients on their final journey, as well as comfort their families.

In this pandemic it has involved finding innovative ways of bringing comfort and presence to those deprived of physical contact when the Covid-19 patient dies. I have never been so heartbroken as over recent weeks for our patients and their families who cannot hug each other, even see each other.

A normal day in hospital can be tough for patients but a day in a hospital when you can’t have visitors and everyone you see is wearing a mask is a real struggle

Their isolation and loneliness is just harrowing. I have seen the distress and sadness of families first hand and it is just not right that people have to go through this alone.

Staff in the hospital have taken time to knit keepsake love hearts that fit into the palm of a hand. I have placed many hearts into the hands of people who are unwell and dying, letting them know that their families are with them and always love them. A matching heart is given to their family as a symbol that their loved one was not alone and that they had a piece of them.

Patients who do not have Covid-19 but are in hospital for other reasons are not able to see family or have visitors either. A normal day in hospital can be tough for patients but a day in a hospital when you can’t have visitors and everyone you see is wearing a mask is a real struggle.

Human contact is healing. It helps people on their journey to get better. It spurs a person on to fight for their family when they are unwell.

For people outside in the community it has been an excruciatingly hard time too, having to stay at home. We are asked to do this so patients in hospitals can have a chance to overcome this virus and to be with the people they love, and for their loved ones to be well when they get home.

Every staff member in hospital is fighting hard against Covid-19 and needs the support of everyone outside by staying at home as much as possible.

In the midst of the chaos and grief, people also need to remember that we will overcome this. History tells us that we are survivors of pandemics.

In Tallaght we have come together as a hospital and a community to support each other through this incredibly stressful and scary time, with hope. And it is such a privilege to work alongside each one of them.

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