By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Archbishop Jason Gordon prayed for healthcare workers at the Couva Hospital and Multi-Training Facility on Saturday, December 18, asking God to bless their hands, still, their minds and hearts to make great decisions for Covid patients under their care. He also asked God to give them fortitude and peace within.
“I know you are all are under pressure…it is relentless, there is absolutely no let up,” Archbishop Gordon told Nurse Administrator Melissa Balbosa-Craigwell, who with nurse Sharlana Beharry met him at the lobby and escorted him around the facility. Fr Robert Christo, Vicar for Communications accompanied His Grace.
The visit to the facility was to offer spiritual support, show solidarity and express gratitude to health care workers. He blessed areas of the hospital and staff members on the three floors of the facility.
Balbosa-Craigwell told the Archbishop that staff is not too vocal about what was happening because that was “another pressure we don’t think the public needs.” “You are taking all the pressure without…an exhale; thank you”, Archbishop Gordon said.
The active areas are divided into ‘cold zones’ and ‘hot zones’. Doctors and nurses enter the ‘Hot Zone’ after putting on their personal protective equipment (PPE) in the Donning PPE Area. No eating, drinking, or using the bathroom is allowed. To do any of these requires leaving the area.
Upon leaving, medical personnel goes through the Doffing Area where they are sprayed with sanitising chemicals by a technician who helps them get out of the PPE. “Once they step out into this corridor, they go directly to their lounge area where they shower and change into their clean clothes,” explained Balbosa-Craigwell.
Any items taken out are put into a doffing bag by the technician and have to be left for one week for the viral load to die naturally before it can be retrieved.
The Hot Zone is separated from other cold areas by a thick wall of plastic and staff in both areas do not cross zones while on duty. On the Third Floor Hot Zone, Archbishop Gordon conveyed encouragement and prayers for the work they were doing. They appreciated his prayers and Dr Sarisha Sankat said, through PPE and the plastic screen, “say a prayer for the staff—that is what we could ask the entire country. We are doing the best we can for every single patient.” Archbishop Gordon asked what she learned from working in the section. “A tremendous amount of patience,” she replied. The doctors were on a 12-hour shift.
In a doctor’s lounge, a young doctor was resting before resuming her next shift. She said the shifts were for six to eight hours then a break. She would resume her duties at 2 p.m. that day and was on call through to Sunday.
She disclosed she has seen a lot of suffering and loneliness, especially for the elderly, as well as hopelessness. She said it was mentally and psychologically demanding. At times it was also physically demanding as she mentioned the pain after bending over to do CPRs (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
Surveillance nurse Natasha Peters said the number of daily admissions can get “really overwhelming.” She added, “it is really crowding the healthcare system.” Twelve patients were already admitted at the time of the Archbishop’s visit, but she said there could be a lot more or less depending on the time of year and activities going on.
Responding to how she is coping, she said, “As I told everyone including my husband, everyone I come into contact with, if not for God, it is difficult. You alone cannot do this and have the endurance, energy and the determination to do what you do every day, diligently.”
While the staff strives to do the best that they can, Balbosa-Craigwell said the hospital’s resources are “finite” and appealed for the public to get vaccinated. Approximately 80 per cent of patients were unvaccinated. The vaccinated have a better “fighting chance” of recovery or not ending up hospitalised.
She said the psychological toll of hospitalisation was being felt by medical staff. They have seen patients unable to utter a word over a phone. “They are too short of breath to speak to their relatives; it is distressing for the relative to see them with the tubes and the lines…to not know what is happening.” There is no visiting hours or chance to say, ‘see you tomorrow’.
She continued: “It is very hard and sometimes while we may recognise a patient is deteriorating and they may not make it, sometimes that is not the case; sometimes they look like they are doing well ….it is a really big shock to you, ‘wait, the person died?’.” These scenarios are not a “one-off” during the pandemic. Psychological counselling is available to staff who need support.
Balbosa-Craigwell said medical personnel tries to “stand in the gap” for the relatives who cannot be there to offer comfort, to hold the patient’s hand or give a drink of water but acknowledged there were limitations to the “comfort care” which staff can provide.
Asked how the Catholic Church can support the hospital, she highlighted the social needs of families whose sole breadwinner ends up warded. The patient sometimes does not want to be treated “because they are worried about what is happening home and they can’t do anything.”
Although there are social workers who intervene and try to facilitate assistance, Balbosa-Craigwell said, “it is so much for them as well.” Single-parent nursing staff is concerned about caring for their children while they are on duty.