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Reform Magazine | June 23, 2021

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I am… a healthcare chaplain

I am… a healthcare chaplain

Catherine Lewis-Smith on hospital chaplaincy during the pandemic

I vividly remember the first weeks of the pandemic response in my hospital. Returning from a week of leave, I found myself the only chaplain on duty. Several of my colleagues had been sent home to shield, and overnight the personal protective equipment (PPE) regime had changed profoundly. A new Roman Catholic chaplain started the next day, and as soon as he arrived a request came in to support a patient dying with Covid-19, so I taught him how to don PPE safely before he had even sat down as his desk. Those early days were very intense and solemn, as we felt the enormity of a first wave of Covid-19 coming in towards us. Friends and my church family let me know that I was in their prayers, which meant so much.

It took a week or two to understand the new rhythm of our work, and the changed patterns of the hospital. We were still visiting patients, able to provide our usual care, but not everyone knew that they could still ask for spiritual support. When churches and mosques stood closed, many wrongly assumed that the chaplains had gone home. I spent some of my day at patients’ bedsides, with those feeling anxious or afraid, and with the dying.

Each day, I made time to sit in the break room outside critical care, next to the station where nurses dressed into their full PPE. Inside those wards, everyone looks the same except for our handwritten name labels, but we all bring different things to the patient. I often take in holding crosses, knitted love hearts, rosary beads, Muslim prayer beads, a holy book belonging to the patient’s religion. More than any of these, I bring the reassurance that the patient is not alone, not forgotten, and the offer of time to sit and talk, or pray as requested…

Catherine Lewis-Smith is a United Reformed Church minister and chaplain at Salford Royal Foundation Trust

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This is an extract from an article published in the April 2021 edition of Reform

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