I haven’t written much about the pandemic. I’ve been too busy living in the middle of it, going to work as a hospital chaplain. We continued to work, though with constant adjustments in ways we provided care to patients, their families and friends, and our coworkers.
Now that I’m starting to recover my equilibrium, I want to mention the things that I pay attention to.
I am fundamentally interested in the person in front of me. Sick or injured, worried or grieving, exhausted or frustrated or angry or numb. As much as I can debate the numbers and the trends and the patterns, all of those are not the person in front of me.
I’m more interested in hospitalizations than cases. When cases increase, it can be due to more cases or more identified cases. While those are useful numbers for many people, I’m affected by increases in hospitalizations. Those numbers aren’t due to testing, they are due to being sick.
I’m interested in what are called excess deaths. Every day, on average, in the US, 7700 people die. If we are seeing people die from a virus rather than other causes, that’s one thing. If we are seeing people die from the usual causes and then an additional group from the virus, that’s another thing. When I did some digging a month ago, in this country we had about 700 excess deaths a day. Which means that every day, 700 more families than usual are dealing with the loss of a loved one.
I’m curious about non-medical reasons for questioning guidelines, and how people who question guidelines about masks and other precautions are or are not people who question other guidelines. Because I care about the person in front of me, I wonder. And, because I care about the person in front of me, I wear a mask. It doesn’t hurt me. It may help you.
I’m curious about the amount of passion about positions. I’ve often noticed that when tension suddenly goes up in a meeting, the reason for the emotional response is often not related to the topic, but to something deeper, more emotional.
I’m sensitive to the kinds of loss and accumulating grief that we have. There have been many losses: lives, jobs, insurance, security. The response to loss is grief. Recently, I talked with a person who spent their wedding anniversary in the hospital, facing complications from cancer treatment, learning of the death of a loved one, in the pandemic. And the person said, “I should be more encouraging.” I reviewed the reasons that the person was okay processing their grief.
I’m also aware that I have watched people who have a positive test for COVID-19 take their last breaths. And people with other illnesses or injuries take their last breaths. And all without families in the room. And none of them alone, but with nurses and patient care techs in the room, eyes filling with tears. And so I know that the illness is real, that the implications are widespread, and all death is painful.
I’m aware of the impact of word choices: Social distance rather than physical distance. Freedom of action rather than responsibility for each other. Back to normal in contrast to new normal in contrast to making wise choices. Flattening the curve as opposed to stopping the spread.
I’m not taking sides, arguing positions, or debating. Instead, I’m letting you know what I look for. Because, after all, you are in front of me, too.