Part 2: My experience of CPE residency during COVID-19

Marie Conlin, MDiv

If the changes to life were not enough, there had been many changes to my assigned units that began the first week of the Covid19 pandemic, which if I can say “officially” began on Monday, March 16th, though there was much concern as to what was coming our way the week prior.  Soon, due to an understandable concern to limit the potential spread of Covid19, chaplains stopped making routine visits to the Family Birthing Center (FBC). We visited only per request and in most cases, those requests came due to patient’s experiencing a fetal demise.  

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I missed my routine visits to the FBC because it had become for me a peaceful place to escape the craziness of the world in a sense.  To bless babies in this crucial time was a joy that could be had for a few beautiful moments of the day in the time of complete upheaval in our lives.  I was able to enter rooms and keep a socially safe distance and see these beautiful bundles of joy and their parent’s beaming faces overjoyed whether this is their first, third or fifth baby.   

The Med/Surg floor has become more of a “revolving door” in these past number of weeks.  First as the elective surgeries went away the Southwest wing was empty, and the West wing became a Covid19 Positive wing with the Southeast housing patients with a menagerie of illnesses.  The West wing has continued to stay a Covid19 positive ward during this time of the virus.  The Southwest wing has changed many times ever since the first couple of weeks of being empty.  It has housed patients with different illnesses but no Covid19 patients.  As the changes happened daily, it would have helped to have a map to know what I was walking into.  

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As for me, I had my own adjustments to go through both as a chaplain and personally.  When I was first called to visit a patient with Covid19, I was nervous to say the least, but as I stood there putting on my full PPE, I saw the ease with which the nurses were going in and out of the Covid19 positive rooms and that helped me overcome my apprehension.  Their bravery reminded me of my calling to chaplaincy and that I was here for such a time as this and it was after this first visit that it became easier to go into other Covid19 positive rooms.  


“Their ( the nurses) bravery reminded me of my calling to chaplaincy and that I was here for such a time as this and it was after this first visit that it became easier to go into other Covid19 positive rooms.” Marie Conlin

One day, I was called to provide spiritual support to a brother of a Covid19 positive patient. Part of that support involved accompanying him to the room so that he could say goodbye to his Covid19 positive brother who was actively dying.  While we were putting on our PPE, the nurse came out of the room and stated that the patient had just died.  We then went into the room where the patient was, and the blanket covered him to his neck.  He also had a mask on, so the only exposure was from his eyes on up.  The brother and I stood there, and our only exposure were from our foreheads up. As we stood there by the bedside, I engaged the brother in life review to help him process the death and prayed but that experience made me realize that we were going to have to adjust to doing ministry in a whole new way.   

Besides being covered in PPE, which was hot to say the least, we had to socially distance ourselves from the patient and each other and to add insult to injury it seemed to take longer to get in and out of the PPE than the amount of time we were allowed to be in the room knowing that there was potential for infection.   

Another death that still comes to my mind quite often is that of a patient who passed away in the ICU.  The nurse called to tell me that he died and that she had already talked with the son to notify him of his father’s passing.  She asked me to give him about ten or fifteen minutes before calling.  I waited and when I gave him a call to extend my condolences on the loss of his father, he told me that he was getting his mother ready.  Ready?  Ready for what?  Your father just died, and we are in a time of quarantine and you’re getting your mother ready?  I was confused.  He said that his mother had the same symptoms that his father had when they brought him in, and he was going to bring her into the hospital.  He said the last thing his father told him before leaving to go to the hospital was to make sure that he takes care of his mother.  With his father gone he could not bear to lose his mother especially after he remembered his father’s parting words.  I told him, yes, by all means get her ready and bring her in.  We hung up.   

That not only sunk in but hit me like a brick wall.  Not only did this young man lose his father but there was also the potential that he could lose his mother to this unseen killer.  This ravenous virus that cared less about crossing family boundaries but about infecting any and every one that crossed its path.  Later that evening, when I saw that both he and his mother were in the hospital ED triage rooms, my heart broke for them.  I never knew this family but deep down inside I felt their pain and was concerned that they could all be wiped out in the blink of an eye, but by morning they had been released.  It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless in a time that victories still seemed to be non-existent. 

A Hospital patient: Picture courtesy of

There was another family that had also been hard hit by the virus, and it would not be until the third member was hospitalized that I would realize how intensely this virus was in wiping out families.  I had seen it with the previous family but as far as I can tell the mother and son survived.  This family was not as fortunate.  I was brought into the case when the husband asked that their Pastor be allowed in since the family spoke little English.  When the Pastor arrived at the hospital I was called and asked to escort him to the patient’s room.  After we arrived at the room, I helped the Pastor put on his PPE, tied his gown in the back and then sent him into the room where the patient and her husband waited for his arrival.   

The patient died from covid19 shortly after that pastoral visit, which was a sad event but even worse, their son was a patient a few rooms down the hall with Covid19.  A few weeks later, the son also died from Covid19.  How tragic and unfortunate for the father losing both his wife and son from this deadly virus. A few weeks after that, I was paged for a cardiac alert.  This cardiac alert was for that same man who had lost both his wife and son. When I saw him, I had the wind knocked out of me.  This virus was not only killing people, but it was also taking the life out of people who had lost those most dear to them.   


Note: Marie Conlin appeared on this episode of the Hospice Chaplaincy Show.

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