"View from the Study ..."
What a difference a few weeks make! I am back in Grimsargh after seven weeks in a holiday flat in Blackpool. I am looking out over the field in front of the Vicarage in Grimsargh rather than chimney pots and Warbreck water tower. Two worlds less than 20 miles apart, yet they feel and were so different.
Before I share some reflections about my time in a mainly sunny Blackpool, I would like to thank everyone who supported me over the last few weeks. So many of you; from the kind what’s app messages and cards to the prayers, from the lovely cake left on the front doorstep to the offers of scrub bags as I returned to frontline clinical practice. Your kindness and generosity really helped and inspired me. Thank you.
In many ways going back to the NHS Trust I had “retired from” just less than a year ago was like falling off a log. The computer system was as cranky as it was when I left, and the maze of corridors and buildings were remarkably familiar. The compassionate heart of the organisation was clear to see but so was the anxiety and fear about the uncertainty of how to manage the pandemic and its potential impact on everyone and everything.
It was lovely to meet up with old colleagues as well as meet some new ones. The Team Leader for chaplaincy and spiritual care found it amusing to be my boss and mentor, having had the misfortune to be managed by me when he spent a few years working as chaplain in the Hospice. We worked alongside each other and it was wonderful to be able to pray together as well as debrief when needed.
Most of my work involved supporting patients and staff on the COVID wards. For the patients it was about providing spiritual and if needed religious support. For the staff it involved creating opportunities for them to talk about the stresses and strains of what they were having to do. With no hospital visiting allowed, even for those patients who were dying, the burden of care that fell on the staff was significant with many of them finding the restrictions hard to bear. In addition, the uncertainty surrounding how best to manage patients with this new viral infection challenged even the most experienced doctors and nurses. Having someone to listen who had clinical experience and knowledge as well as time was useful, especially on the intensive care and high dependency units.
I also helped the Trust set up a bereavement hub to support relatives of patients who had died. The complexity of supporting a family who has been unable to be with a loved one at the end of their life, sorting out the practical challenge of how to return belongings and valuables safely, along with how to register a death on line whilst providing compassionate and appropriate bereavement information and support proved to be a complex jigsaw
The intensity of the work is hard to describe. Many of the COVID wards, at the height of the outbreak were having to manage five or six deaths in a day. The emotional and physical strain of wearing personal protective equipment is hard. Trying to comfort a patient when they can only see your eyes behind a set of protective goggles, your voice is muffled by a mask and touch has to be strictly limited is really hard and exhausting, but the staff continued to do so hour after hour. I was proud and humbled to witness the dedication and compassion of so many teams working across the hospital: not just the medical and nursing teams, but also many others including the domestics, the porters, the maintenance guys, and the security staff, who had to gently turn away desperate relatives on a daily basis.
None of the people I worked with would want to be seen as a hero. They were doing their jobs, to the best of their ability in difficult circumstances. They valued the appreciation and the recognition shown every Thursday evening, but were always the first to say that pulling through the challenges was about everyone across the community pulling together. In many ways the pandemic has shown us how we are all the body of Christ, each with our unique part to play in enabling the whole to be the best it can be. Without the sacrifice of those relatives unable to be with a loved one as they died, the willingness of all of us to stay at home and socially distance, and the skill of so many people keeping us connected and safe we would not be beginning the slow process of rebuilding and restarting.
The invitation to the peace said week by week at Communion has more meaning than ever:
We are the body of Christ. In the one spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.