A small group of nurses and other team members gather in the intensive care unit at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, as monitors beep and ventilators whoosh in the glass-walled rooms of patients, most who have COVID-19.
WellSpan chaplain Jacki Roderick asks each of the team members to take a smooth rock from a glass jar.
Then the chaplain urges the group of caregivers to take a moment and recall all their feelings from the pandemic – exhaustion, sadness, anger, grief – and direct those feelings into the rock. It is quiet for a moment.
Then one nurse murmurs, “I’m gonna need a bigger rock.”
Everyone exhales and laughs. Then they all surrender their rocks, and hopefully some of their burdens, placing them into the jar.
“The rocks are memories of all you have overcome, all you have conquered,” Roderick says, as the group stand in a tight circle, clasping hands and reflecting on a period that has included loss and grief but also healing and compassion. “Feel the strength from each other. Know that you are blessed and loved.”
Chaplains across the WellSpan system are holding or planning similar ceremonies across the system to allow staff to acknowledge, process and release their feelings from the pandemic and any other challenges in the past year.
Chaplains are visiting nursing units and gathering with team members in other areas to do a variety of rituals.
At WellSpan Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals, Kibreab Gudeta, director of pastoral services, is asking staff to write on a piece of water-dissolvable paper whatever they are carrying in their hearts – the death of a patient, an unshakeable pain, a shattered hope or dream – urging them to relinquish it to the piece of paper and then put the paper in a bowl of water.
“As the paper fades away,” Gudeta tells staff, “let it go.”
At WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, team members wrote the initials of patients or loved ones on rocks to remember them. Nurses in one unit wrote the initials of a beloved team member who died from COVID-19; others wrote the names of family members or loved ones. Chaplain David Madara read the names or initials on each rock and placed them in a glass jar, pausing to allow people to share their stories. Then he urged team members to look at each other and acknowledge their team.
“This usually resulted in giggles and shared gratitude with teammates,” he said. “We gave thanks together for making it through this far.”
WellSpan York Hospital plans to provide each nursing unit a moment to reflect, remember and rejoice - reflect on their resilience, remember their patients who died, and rejoice for the patients who recovered and could leave the hospital, said Elizabeth McCormick, manager of spiritual care and education.
The hope, she said, is that this “symbolizes the hope and compassion that continue to inspire and invigorate the care that staff members offer to each other.”
At the WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital ICU service, nursing assistant Alyssa Wehr recalled a COVID-19 patient she helped to care for in Ephrata who was later transferred to WellSpan York Hospital. The last time she saw him, he was taking his first steps after months of being in the hospital.
Seeing him “made me feel hopeful and happy that he had reached the end of this long recovery,” she said, writing his initials on a rock and placing it in a jar.
Others will not be as fortunate. After the service, Laura DeHaven, a nurse in the Ephrata ICU, looked around at the COVID-19 patients who still fill the unit, noting some likely would not survive. “This has been a rough year here,” she said quietly. “It was good to decompress today.”
Her colleague Allison Sigman, ICU clinical coordinator, said, “It’s helpful to have a time to pause and reflect and get together. Everyone needs this.”
For more information on mental health resources related to coping during the pandemic, go here.