I’ve always liked this prayer.

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering ones. Pity your afflicted ones. Shield your joyous ones. And for all your love’s sake. Amen.

St. Augustine

It seems relevant tonight. I’m off today but I’ve worked a few days and it’s just bad. That word, ‘bad,’ seems anemic. It doesn’t convey what’s going on as the ambulances line up and the patients stack in hall-beds. It doesn’t paint the picture of wave after wave of wheezing children with fever or wheezing adults with lung disease. Much of it RSV, no small amount influenza, and some still brought to us by our old house-guest, COVID.

‘Bad’ doesn’t highlight the frustration and fear in the eyes of patients and families who just don’t understand why their loved ones can’t be transferred (because they don’t understand ‘no beds’) can’t get their medications in a timely manner, or can’t go to a better room ‘upstairs.’

‘Bad’ doesn’t reveal the way physicians and nurses and medics and all the rest teater between wanting to punch computer screens, wanting to cry or just wanting to walk off into the night and never come back. (Many are making plans, and make no mistake.)

When over 50% of the ER rooms are occupied by people waiting days to be admitted, when every ER nurse has far too many patients and not enough co-workers, when the physicians can’t see the young or old as fast as they come in, and when it’s all made worse by car crash, overdose, gunshot, stroke and cardiac arrest, well ‘bad’ is just a ‘bad word.’

Administrators, leaders, need to be walking through the mess and offering comfort. They need to sit down with their employees and say ‘what do you need?’ Or at least, ‘I appreciate this, and I’ll do whatever I can.’ They should talk to patients and families and say ‘everyone is doing their best, I promise.’ Leaders lead from the front. When they don’t, well that’s ‘bad’ too. You can’t lead from a Zoom call, an e-mail, a policy statement or a board-room. That’s management maybe, but not leadership. Leaders dive in and see just how bad it is.

I saw a fellow emergency physician online say that it’s “1000%” worse than they thought before their shift. I’m watching the hopelessness online, the exhaustion in the eyes in person. Perhaps worst of all, the resignation that says ‘I can’t do anymore, no matter how many times you yell, no matter how many new patients check in.’ It’s a kind of emptiness. A loss of will born of being finally, ultimately, powerless in the face of it all.

Of course, it’s not just the ER (or ED…Emergency Department as it is now called). It’s the medical/surgical floors. It’s the intensive care units, adult or pediatric. It’s the trauma bays, the cardiac cath labs. It’s everyone and everywhere.

The same frustrations apply all around and the same hopelessness grows more profound.

The system works because of the devotion of those laboring at the bedside. So in their frustration, our frustration, or exhaustion, the one thing we can do is comfort one another, and if you are not in heathcare, offer comfort to those who are in whatever small or large way you can. And if you pray, then pray.

I’ll close with another prayer I found that seems poignant.

O Lord, Jesus Christ, who has power of life and death, of health and of sickness, give power, wisdom and gentleness to all Thy ministering servants, all physicians and surgeons, nurses and watchers by the sick, that, always bearing thy presence with them, they may not only heal but bless, and shine as lamps of hope in the darkest hours of distress and fear; who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest ever one God, world without end. Amen. Church Missionary Society, AD 1709.

God help us all. And especially the sick and injured who need us at our best and most hopeful.




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