Burnout and Grief
The burnout levels from the pandemic are really high. Healthcare workers are experiencing intensity in their day-to-day work. It can be demoralizing and provide a counter to many of the reasons we go into medicine. Christian doctors can see it as a calling where we can live out our faith and love neighbors in a very real, tangible, and palpable way. We go into medicine because we want to help people get better.
So what's been so heart-wrenching with COVID is that very often the sickest patients do not get better. When you are spending long hours doing everything you can and none of your measures are working and the patients just seem to languish—that is an incredibly demoralizing and anguishing scenario. And there’s even more on top of that.
The isolation, with family members not being able to come into the hospital, has been gut-wrenching. The news headlines that you see about goodbyes said over Zoom are real. Even if we're not dealing with an end-of-life scenario and having to orchestrate digital goodbyes, the very fact that there are no families at the bedside is upsetting.
Even in the ICU, when patients will be on a ventilator and they can't speak, there can be family there with them papering their walls with photographs, holding their hand, singing to them, telling them how their grandson is doing, and talking with the doctors all throughout. In normal times, healthcare providers are able to develop a relationship with them. So it's unnerving to see people that you know are suffering alone. It just deepens the grief.
Additionally, I think it's been very hard for people to see that those who are underprivileged have been particularly stricken by COVID-19. It just lays bare all the disparities in our society—that there's a high proportion of patients that are Hispanic or African-American and from underprivileged backgrounds. On top of that, there's this ever-present fear of Am I going to bring this home to my family?
Our hope is not in what happens in this world, but in Christ and what he's done for us through his redeeming sacrifice for us.
Early in the pandemic when I returned to the hospital, there were physicians I knew who actually sent their children out-of-state to live with grandparents for months and were separated from them. Or, if they had the kids living in a household with them, they would be so grieved because they come home and want to hug them, but didn't think they could until they decontaminated.
The Only Hope
All of this has taken a really, really heavy toll on people and it's lasted for so long. I think that people who are working in the healthcare field really need to know the reality of God's love and their hope in Christ more than ever. So for those of us who are followers of Christ and who know people who are in the healthcare field, I think it's upon us to encourage them and to remind them of the truth and the blessing that chairs might be empty at the bedside, but so is the tomb. Whatever we are dealing with and seeing right now, God knows each and every one of these people who is afflicted. Our hope is not in what happens in this world, but in Christ and what he's done for us through his redeeming sacrifice for us.
It behooves us all to reach out and stay connected with people who are working in the hospital right now. Send them Scripture, pray for and with them, and help them to remember those verses that might seem so far away when you're struggling night after night in the hospital. Just help them to know that they are loved and that God sees what they do.
Kathryn Butler is the author of Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor's Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God.
Many churches are now resuming our meetings, or will soon. But these new services feel strange. Some believers may feel tempted not to come at all.
When we are weary and distraught, we have a place to go. Jesus welcomes us to come to him and cast our cares on him.
In these circumstances, we may find ourselves wondering, Where is God? How can these things be happening if God is perfectly good and all-powerful? Can’t he stop them? Doesn’t he want to?
The pandemic has stripped away many of our opportunities to connect with the people in our congregations.