Rev. Chris Dumas: Serving as a Hospital Chaplain Through COVID-19

April 01, 2021

By Rev. Chris Dumas, Hospital Chaplain

As we reflect on the past year, I am remembering when all things “shut down.” Everything that was a part of daily life was no longer present or dependable. I was taken to the Old Testament and days of exile and wandering in the wilderness. Was this how it felt to our ancestors as their “normal” was disintegrating before their eyes? It was eerie as everyday brought news of cancellations and warnings of pandemic numbers rising.  

I was quickly educated, as a hospital chaplain, to the language of Incident Command and daily briefings. Like churches, we were organizing, reorganizing on a daily basis to achieve our goals; and like churches we experienced our own version of shut down. Volunteers and those deemed "nonessential” were sent home and things got really quiet. We were not greatly impacted by “the first wave” and began to feel safe and accomplished – and then came the Autumn season!

We lived every headline that was in the news. Overflow beds and tents to intake new patients, stressed and overwhelmed staff, isolated and lonely patients who lived their last days more alone than with company, death and grief – abundance of grief! Pastoral care was seen as “essential” so there was no furlough for us, and we continued 24/7 coverage. There were days when I went home – I couldn’t talk anymore, couldn’t listen anymore, couldn’t pray anymore.

One year later, we are beginning to slowly reopen, volunteers might be back in May, and we are cautiously optimistic that numbers of COVID-positive patients will continue to decline.

Lessons learned? 

  • Ambiguous loss has affected us all, and grieving changes in our daily life is true grief.
  • The human body is an amazing machine, able to overcome the impossible but also finite. 
  • COVID-19 is an opportunistic virus waiting for an opening to change your life.
  • We have been challenged to “love one another” by putting on a mask – God forgive us.
  • New appreciation for our ancestors who lived through exile, the Great Depression and WWII through the strength of community. I hope for a renewed call to rise together, stronger for our isolation/separation.

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