The mood in the hospital one day last week was brooding. I plodded through it with the weight of the pandemic draped like an X-ray vest over my shoulders and a slouch in my step as I pondered the implications of a letter signed by more than 200 Manitoba doctors asking the province to impose stricter shutdowns or risk breaking the medical system.
From a medical perspective, we welcomed the tougher measures that came down a few days later, but with a sense it would not shield us from a surge of new patients. Our units are full and swelling as it is, and the emerging data is not encouraging.
Doctors everywhere are up in arms, and similar letters have been written in other provinces. One of the Manitoba letter’s signatories told me this level of clamour from physicians both here and elsewhere is akin to riots in the streets. The medical community is downright upset.
As a spiritual health practitioner on the front lines of the hospital response to the sickest of COVID-19 (and other) patients, I bear witness to the crush on the system. An ICU cubicle is scarcely cleaned before a stretcher with a new admission rolls into the unit, often with "another waiting in emerg" tossed off in the transfer.
We’re tired. I’m tired, and I’m living a rather privileged pandemic. I haven’t been redeployed. I get to show up for regular weekday hours, not 12-hour mandated shifts both days and nights.
For all of us, it’s the relentless accumulation of indignities and expectations that grates. We’ve been going through tough stuff both in community and at work for more than a year already. Add to that the reality of a stretched workforce pushing through each day and, of course, the present surge of very sick patients.
It feels bleak.
Blessings happen, too. On three separate occasions during the week, when the weight of the world seemed so debilitating, I heard from co-workers that spiritual health personnel radiated a sense of calm to them, that being there helps in some way to alleviate the stresses of the moment.
That’s deeply affirming, but calm? The image of a duck on the pond, staid on the surface and furious paddling underneath seems a more apt description.
Some days, of course, are more plodding than others, and in them I recognize how the accretion of multiple and varied challenges can cling to the spirit like burrs on a wool sweater.
Each day comes with a full measure of woes to connect with: a new cancer diagnosis; a painfully infected limb, sets of siblings succumbing to COVID-19, a residential school survivor experiencing panic attacks because hospital confinement triggers anxieties of early childhood miseries, kidney failures, addictions and so much more. COVID-19 complicates even the ordinary.
My job is to be an intimate stranger, to listen carefully and hope people feel some lift in their spirits and a shift in some positive way toward flourishing.
Each patient is important. Each has a saga to unload, and because the pandemic pretty much prohibits personal supporters from visiting, spiritual health practitioners and others come alongside for a spell in an effort to alleviate some symptoms of distress, then move on to someone else.
There’s always another room to attend to, and no bed stays empty for long.
For all of us, the dangers of the virus remain — the restrictions that trouble our social souls, the sheer length of the ordeal, the constant changes amidst the relentless sameness.
Not every day feels as leaden as the mood I have been describing.
Most days, we shoulder the same types of burdens yet manage to bear them differently. We practice our soul care routines. We attune ourselves to the beautiful moments that interrupt the suffering and celebrate when cures occur. Humour also helps, and often, laughter truly is the best medicine. As are tears.
Onward, fellow sloggers.
Doug Koop is a spiritual health practitioner and freelance writer.