Pandemic nursing: Support comes from faith, family, church

Jun 7, 2021

Donna Carlson

By Susan K.

When the COVID-19 floors in Arizona began to fill up in March 2020, Donna Carlson, a member of Mountain Ridge Church in Glendale, volunteered along with thousands of other healthcare workers. A registered nurse since 2006, Carlson knew God was leading her to serve COVID patients and that He was going to equip her, strengthen her and give her joy.

For Carlson, this was an Esther 4:14 moment. “For such as time as this,” she had been called to serve in a place where she estimates she saw more death than in all the previous time in her career as a nurse.

Not prepared but equipped

Her training as an ICU, ER and hospice nurse meant she knew how to respond to a crisis in a calm, cool and collected manner. That training was not enough for what the thousands of nurses, respiratory therapists, techs and physicians faced in the COVID units.

“No one was prepared for this pandemic,” Carlson stated. “This was wartime nursing.”

In faith, she believed that she could serve her patients well because of the Lord’s help. One of the verses she relied on as she entered the hospital each day was Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as for the Lord and not for men.”

“Each day, God gave me the strength to do the work. He gave me the peace and quiet confidence only He could give,” Carlson said.

She also started each shift with the prayer, “Lord, give me joy.”

Strengthened by her faith, she was able to find the words to help families say goodbye to loved ones by phone, over an iPad and sometimes in person. She was able to say quiet prayers throughout her shift over patients, co-workers and family members.

“God had equipped me to be a nurse during this time. When God calls you to it, He will see you through it,” said Carlson.

Isolated but not alone

Each day as the staff entered the COVID unit, they were isolated from the rest of the hospital and staff. They were given their marching orders at the beginning of the shift and then sent out to do the best they could with what they had.

For Carlson, while she was isolated at work, she didn’t feel alone because of the support of her family and the prayers of so many people.

Her church, Mountain Ridge, had set up a virtual prayer wall on its social media accounts praying for specific healthcare workers. Between the comments people left for her on the prayer wall and the texts she received, she knew God was working so that while isolated, she did not feel alone.

At the end of her shift, her husband, Brett, who is also the lead pastor of Mountain Ridge, had their home prepared for her return. A hot drink, hot food and a hot bath were always ready for her.

“He was an absolute rock,” Carlson said. “My faith in God and my family are what carried me through this time.”

Sharing the load

Not everyone will have the training to be a nurse when a major health crisis affects a community. However, Southern Baptists can help share the load with nurses, respiratory therapists, techs and physicians.

Many healthcare workers are still dealing with the emotions and trauma from what they experienced. They are battle-weary and may not be ready to talk about what they have been through with friends and family. One way churches could share the load right now would be to offer counseling from licensed counselors to help nurses and other hospital staff process what they have experienced.

Another way to support healthcare workers is the ministry of presence. They may not be ready to speak about what they have endured, but love them by being present in their lives. Invite them to coffee or for a walk. Be ready to listen. Don’t ask for stories. Don’t talk about COVID. Be prepared for some silence. Share the load by being present.

Susan K., longtime Arizona Southern Baptist, is a Last Frontier missionary with the International Mission Board.

See the accompanying story: Meeting community needs during a crisis

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