Where is hope in the middle of a pandemic?

18 March 2021

Hospital chaplain the Revd Lynda Cooke says hope was vital as the NHS coped with Covid-19.

agp05927I have been a chaplain for 19 years, most recently at Medway Maritime Hospital in Kent. It has been a privilege to minister to people with mental health challenges as well as those with physical illnesses. I remember the ones who struggled to cope with mental illness: those who lost all hope and those who found hope through staff and family members who cared for them. I am reminded how much we need each other and what a difference we can make to each other’s lives. We can all be a source of hope even in the most challenging times.

In January as we began to hear about Covid-19 we didn’t fully understand its impact and the loss of life that would occur. Patients were dying without their families in hospital. It was unprecedented and we didn’t have the rule book for something so devastating. The pandemic was also challenging for staff. Some didn’t go home to their families because they didn’t want to spread the virus, and many staff worked long hours to save people’s lives. Sacrifices were made willingly by all staff as they faced these huge difficulties.

Practical and spiritual support

Hope for me during the pandemic came in different ways. The community around the hospital offered discounts, food and drink, toiletries and much needed hand and face creams. The local community sewed bags for staff to take their work clothes home  to wash safely. Local churches and the community helped raise money to support the hospital. The community really came together. It didn’t stop patients dying or staff being exhausted, but it made a difference to know that people cared about them. I was very moved by the generosity of our community and will never forget the impact that it had on us all.

Lockdown was a challenging time for families with loved ones in hospital, particularly if they were dying, as no one could visit. Staff caring for patients kept in touch with the families, and when possible used phones and Skype to connect those who were very unwell with their families. As chaplains, we were privileged to respond to family requests to pray with their loved ones, particularly those who were dying.

I was very humbled by the difference this made, bringing such hope and comfort at a time of despair. It was a powerful source of hope for me to know that we were making a difference to a family’s challenging journey and also to the patients who wanted to connect with God. Amid all the devastation, there was hope.

During lockdown, the chaplains needed to find a way to reach out to people of all faiths and none, particularly to those who were dying. We contacted our local communities so we could pass on appropriate prayers to people from all faiths who were dying, or very unwell. We communicated with the wards, so that prayers could be spoken to patients, either by a staff member of the same faith, or a staff member who was happy to read it for their patient. All the staff worked as a team, whether they had faith or not. Hope was given and received as some recovered and some did not.

Time to heal and recover

agp05836Patients, staff and families were all vulnerable to the virus’ impact on mental health. Staff worked tirelessly and were deeply affected by the number of patients they couldn’t save despite doing everything possible. It was a challenging time and the staff have needed support and help during this journey.

We are now in a very different place, with smaller numbers of patients with Covid-19. It’s a time to heal, reflect and recover our resilience. We all hope that the pandemic will come to an end, but we are very aware that the number of people with the disease is now rising again. My source of hope and encouragement has come from Psalm 91, particularly verses 9–16. I have begun each day standing on the word of God, knowing it is true and faithful.

Hope is a powerful entity that draws communities together. It provides the cement needed for groups to work with a common aim. We could not have managed this unprecedented episode without that four-letter word, HOPE.

It has replenished our spirits both in the hospital and the community. With hope we will heal, learn and recover our strength.

This article originally appeared in the connexion magazine, issue 20.
Banner image and photos: © Robin Prime, TMCP