COVID-19 Vaccinations Bring New Faith to Hospital Chaplains
Rabbi Dena Trugman barely felt the prick of the Pfizer vaccine needle on her arm as an overwhelming sense of relief swept through her. She noted the awe she felt as a nurse in PPE gently placed a band-aid on her arm and asked if she would like to take a few photos for her social media. Trugman smiled and gave a thumbs up to the camera.
“I felt giddy like a little child on the first day back to school,” says Rabbi Trugman. “I know that the COVID surge is still here, and the numbers are crazy, even now, over one-third of our patients have the virus. But I felt like – bring it on, the light at the end of the tunnel is here.”
The vaccination unit is stationed right in front of Rabbi Trugman’s office door, the spiritual care department of the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, where she works as a Palliative Care chaplain – specialized medical care that provides grief support to patients with terminal illnesses, and their families. She had walked in that hallway countless times in the past year, carrying with her the collective sense of heartbreak felt by the staff and patients, but since the arrival of the vaccine, she has noticed a palpable feeling of relief.
The arrival of the vaccine has brought new hope to healthcare workers around the nation, who were feeling overwhelmed at work as they witnessed increasing COVID-19 deaths from the third surge of the pandemic. The constant struggle with the shortage of ICU beds, PPE, patients disrespecting doctors and protocols, and responding to desperate requests from family members to see their dying relatives pushed healthcare chaplains, like Rabbi Trugman, to a breaking point.
“It felt like a crisis of faith – because all my patients were dying. Why was there so much pain and tragedy everywhere?” says Rabbi Trugman. “I felt like I was calling out to God and nothing came back. It was a lonely feeling.”
For Rabbi Trugman, receiving the vaccine inspired her to reconnect with her faith community. She reached out to Jewish congregations to participate in Jewish learning as well as meditation and connecting with other chaplains in her field. “Judaism is a communal faith, you aren’t meant to do anything alone,” says Rabbi Trugman. “I realized that the help I needed was always around me.”
Hospital chaplains across the country are getting vaccinated as the COVID-19 vaccinations roll out to frontline health care workers in order of priority. For some of them, getting vaccinated is not just about hope, but also about duty.
Seher Siddiqee, a Muslim chaplain in the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, says that getting vaccinated reminds her about the concepts of ‘fard al-ayn' (individual responsibility) and ‘fard al-kifaya' (communal obligation) from her Islamic faith.
“Public health is a communal obligation, and I have to do my individual part to contribute in that,” says Chaplain Siddiqee. “I am most looking forward to being more comfortable seeing family and friends, whom I haven’t seen since before Thanksgiving, though they live just an hour away.”
Though the vaccine has brought new hope, healthcare workers, like Hospice Chaplain Annie Grogan, advises people to approach the arrival with cautious optimism.
“I feel encouraged and hopeful because of the vaccine like I can finally take a breath and be comfortable,” says Chaplain Grogan. “But we are not invincible. It doesn’t immediately change protocols and precautions that are in place, we still need to take the virus seriously – it hasn’t gone anywhere.”
Since March last year, Chaplain Grogan hasn’t been able to visit most of her patients in person, resorting to consultations over the phone, or virtual visits. This drastic change in her approach to work has left her feeling unfulfilled as a chaplain, shares Chaplain Grogan, as she struggles to relay a genuine sense of comfort over the phone.
“Getting vaccinated gives us hope that we can move beyond this despair – that soon we can facilitate visits, help families meet after a year. It’s the hope that’s keeping us going.”
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.