By Anne Windholz
Last week at work I spent time investigating coronavirus resources and support. I checked chaplaincy organization websites, listened to a conversation about pandemic-complicated grief, identified Schwartz Center aids, and read about Passover in times of pandemic.
For me and most people I know, everything in work life, personal life, and ministry is now “re-visioned” through the ubiquitous image of the coronavirus itself — a pock-marked sphere with mean red “crowns” sticking out all over. Rather like the inhabitants of the Emerald City in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, who had green glasses locked onto their heads, we in healthcare find ourselves wearing spectacles of pandemic that color our sense of reality. People in the Emerald City began to believe that, indeed, the city around them was made of emeralds. That was the wizard’s great trick. Everything green, all the time. We, meanwhile, see corona-red. Our professional discourse is positively dyed by it.
But the “ordinary” stuff is still happening for staff and patients. Vision’s last issue was dedicated to organ donation. What happens in a time of pandemic if a loved one is waiting for a liver, or you are trying to decide whether to donate a kidney? The fear, the hesitation, is simply amplified. The common health issues and accompanying challenges remain. And that is true whether we are talking about an organ donation, a mental health crisis, losing a baby, or dealing with pediatric parents. In a strange new world, this is ground we know. And it’s not all red. We are not just pandemic chaplains.
I point this out in part because I dealt with an ICU death recently — sudden embolism, unexpected, lots of grief — and afterwards the nurse and I were talking it through. As we finished up, I realized — I’d completely forgotten, for an hour and a half, about the coronavirus. That forgetting, that getting lost in the “normal day” of work, even “normal grief” (if there is such a thing) felt good. At lunch, other interdisciplinary staff described similar instances. “I walked out to get a cup of coffee,” said one manager with embarrassment, “and it felt just like any other Wednesday. Then I remembered the virus.”
In a situation where people are dying and many, many others are vulnerable, no one, least of all healthcare workers, can afford to ignore COVID-19. But neither can we let it subsume the usual focus of our work or swallow up our joy in the ordinary. Our world is neither green nor red, but remains beautifully multicolored — even yet.
In the 1970s, my mom had a small poster on her bedroom wall: “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.” I think that the grace of the normal, too, where we can find it, will be an important part of our work lives in the months to come.
Anne M. Windholz, BCC, is spiritual care leader/staff chaplain at Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, Illinois.