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Stories

Anointing of the sick

This happened at one of our ministries in Southern Califorinia on March 20, 2020 and has become a best practice in Spiritual Care during COVID for our ministries in the region. We are using technology to respond to the signs of the times and remaining steadfast in serving all.
(A written account of what happened in providing end of life care to a Catholic COVID 19 patient by Chaplain Andrew Campbell)

A family request came through to administer an anointing of the sick sacrament to a patient nearing end-of-life, who has also tested positive for COVID-19. The family has been experiencing the distress of losing their loved one compounded by the fact that no visitors are allowed into the hospital. The patient’s nurse has also been experiencing distress in taking care of the patient within the context of these unusual circumstances.

As our chaplains assessed the situation, four main concerns emerged that needed spiritual care support and interventions. First, the patient's need for sacramental support. Second, family's distress at not seeing their loved one who is passing away, and experiencing the emotions of separation, loss, and grief compounded by the numerous health precautions which prevent visitation. Third, allowing the family to be present at, and participate in, the sacramental support. Fourth, the bedside nurse's distress at holding the pain of the family's inability to visit the patient. Within each of these concerns, we needed to continue to follow the guidelines set forth by the state and ministries concerning spiritual care visits, social distancing, and preserving PPE for strictly medical caregivers.

In addressing the first concern, our office reached out to the Spiritual Health Officer, Father Tim Bushy, for Catholic theological reflection and Apostolic guidance in providing an impactful intervention. With this guidance, we composed a solution for our priest chaplain to provide prayers of commendation and absolution for the patient within the guidance received. Having assessed the Father’s comfort in providing the sacrament to the patient, we decided for him to stand at the patient's doorway, without entering the patient's room, and perform the prayers of commendation and absolution. He maintained more than the 6-foot social distancing perimeter with this behavior. Further, we coordinated with the patient’s bedside nurse to place a scapular on the patient at the Father’s signal.

To begin to create digital presence we reached out to the patient’s family (two adult children) and offered spiritual support by phone and assessed the kind of technology they had available to create presence digitally. We learned that both children had Apple phones so we set up a test phone call with one of our chaplain’s iPhone for a 3-way FaceTime call, which was successful. We then setup an appointed time to administer the sacramental support with the family. This way, the patient's family could see and talk to the patient, as well as participate digitally in Father's prayers and absolution. Our team also prepared options for Skype if the family had other technologies available.

Next we inquired with the bedside nurse if she would be willing to help support the family's request for sacramental support by holding the phone in the patient's room while on the FaceTime call. This would allow the patient to hear the family, for the family to see and speak to the patient, and allow the family to be present during Father’s sacramental support. The nurse gladly agreed to participate and we also ran this plan by the unit manager to ensure that our proposed intervention fell within protocols. The unit manager approved and offered any additional support needed.

At the appointed time, Father, a staff chaplain, and the patient’s bedside nurse prepared to start. Once the family was successfully connected via FaceTime, the nurse donned the PPE and entered the patient’s room while the Father and staff chaplain stood just outside of the doorway. Father provided prayers of commendation and absolution for the patient, provided prayers for the family and coordinated with the bedside nurse to place a scapular on the patient. The family took some time to express grief and say goodbyes immediately prior to beginning the sacramental support. Upon completion, the chaplain’s phone was wiped down with the hospital wipes and allowed to ‘cure’ for the required time to endure all virus and bacteria were eliminated.

The family and bedside nurse expressed acknowledgement that though the circumstances were difficult and unusual, they experienced spiritual and emotional support by this intervention. Both the family and nurse also expressed gratitude for the creativity and willingness of the spiritual care team to bring this creative method of presence and support.