Last week, I interviewed an Alberta emergency room physician, an emergency room nurse, a unit nurse and a primary-care paramedic for an Easter-based sermon I was working on.
Seeing news reports depicting these incredible souls work at the front line of the coronavirus pandemic made me curious about what drove them. Who are these people who so willingly step toward the danger and choose to touch those no one else will touch?
As a faith leader, I believe that God made these health-care professionals and that selfless vocational impulses — wherever we find them — are born out of the selfless heart of God.
So, as I conversed with each of these care providers, I listened for echoes of God’s voice.
Calgary emergency room physician Dr. Mark Scott returned my call while he was out of town finishing up a holiday. He told me that over his break he’d been spending up to two hours a day going over simulations in preparation for his return to work. I found it so hopeful that as an ER doctor he was wired this way. His diligence reminded me of the fact that God is always thinking ahead and prepared.
Dr. Scott went on to describe how everyone in the ER is ready for what’s coming.
“If you walked into the emergency room right now, with a fever and a cough and you’re thinking, ‘I’m really worried. I think I’ve got it. Are they going to know how to care for me?’” he said.
“What you don’t know is that all of the care providers that you meet — the triage nurse, the bedside nurse, the physician, the nursing aide, you name it — they have all been through this with other patients before, practiced numerous times, and if there have been errors they’ve corrected the errors, and they have rehearsed how to do it right.
“We talk about this being a novel virus but in the emergency department it’s not terribly novel because we’ve practiced this, in part with other diseases, and we’ve already practiced this a lot with this current disease.”
As he spoke about how an emergency room team knows what they are doing, I was reminded of the fact that they were created in the image of an empirically minded God; growing science and medicine to its current level of proficiency and instilling compassion in human hearts.
A God who, we trust, knows what he’s doing.
Edmonton ER nurse Chelsy Vandenberg described her passion to help this way, “Choosing nursing as a career wasn’t something I decided overnight. It was a few years in the making when I decided that I was made to help others. I feel that it is instilled in me to want to help. So, why would I turn away during a time like this when people truly need me to care for them?
“Obviously, it is a scary time for everyone, but I am honoured to be on the serving side of this. If I can bring calm to just one person in a desperate time of fear, I will do so. The risk is worth the reward I get from changing another person’s life.”
Last week in New York City, 76,000 retired or former health-care workers volunteered to help fight the pandemic. Around the world, front-line health-care workers are stepping up for the sake of others, risking their health, doing what needs to be done, being who they were made to be, for us! Who do we thank for people like these?
Through all of these stories, I keep seeing reflections of the face of God. A God who, in the Easter story, chose to come to us, to enter the fray, to risk his life for the sick and touch the untouchables.
When I asked an agnostic Calgary-based unit nurse if he saw anything God-like in the work of front-line health-care workers, he responded, “I don’t know that they are God-like. I do think that they can be Christ-like. Christ was a radical caregiver. Christ felt the need to protect the poor, the outcast, the disabled. Christ said that by virtue of being, you are deserving of love, and care and community. Christ fought injustice. Christ understood our basic shared humanity. This is what health care should be, and is, when it is at its best.
“Theologically, Christ is also a part of the Godhead, so, perhaps in that way front-line health care is god-like. God-like in that all of the pieces of the system that come together to provide care as a cohesive whole, are also individuals, with their own unique characteristics. We are many, and yet one.”
His response amazed me. What a beautiful summary of the Christian faith — of how we can all image Christ.
When I asked a 22-year-old primary-care paramedic from northern Alberta what drove her to help others in a pandemic-shaken world, she said, “When you talk when a patient who is immune-compromised, who is now terrified to leave their house, you become a little more thankful that you are able to get out and work. I like to be a rock for some of these people to air their concerns and confessions.
“A lot of the times the terminal patients we see have been the rock for their family and then I get to go in and just take a little weight off their shoulders and most of the time it’s just listening to fears and concerns that they’ve been too afraid to tell their families about. Especially now with few visitors allowed in hospital settings, it feels nice to be ‘someone to talk to.’”
While this paramedic didn’t see herself as a religious person, I saw God all over her.
Every time she listens to a lonely immune-compromised person, she is the listening presence of God. Hearing their confessions, she’s a paramedic-priest. Every time she takes on a bit of their load, she’s modeling a Jesus who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
We’re living in a time where many of us can use a little unburdening.
This Easter, most Christians will not be able to go to church. Yet, in our isolation, God has been coming to us — through the compelling witness of selfless and courageous front-line health-care workers.
Easter’s gospel is being preached in hospitals around the world.