Remembering the best of times and worst of times

If we are lucky enough to live a long life, many years may be forgotten in the blur of decades. But, this year will never fade from memory. This has been the epoch of our belief. It has been our finest year.

One year ago, on March 8, 2020, Norton Brownsboro Hospital admitted our first COVID-19 Norton Healthcare patient. My co-workers recently have talked about how that time has passed. In many ways it seems hard to believe that it has been one whole year. But it has also seemed an eternity since we could go out without these ever-present masks. It is common while in crisis to assume two perspectives. We often assume that the current crisis is permanent and, secondly, that it has never happened before. However, history provides a crisis guide for our future. It is important to remember that these paths have been well worn by our ancestors.

The children of Israel, of the Old Testament, were crossing the Jordan River from a wilderness into a new land of promise. During that transition, they were instructed: “take up 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan … and carry them over with you. … In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Tell them … These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4)

Those “remembering” instructions were meant to provide guidance for future descendants so they might draw hope from an old pile of rocks when called to cross their own treacherous rivers.

Two familiar quotes have been circulating in my head. One is from the classic Charles Dickens novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

The other quote comes from that famous World War II Winston Churchill speech to the British House of Commons. After the English suffered a humiliating defeat at Dunkirk, he said, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties…” He noted that in the future they would say, “This was their finest hour.”

Over the past year, Norton Healthcare employees have stepped into that abyss with the same dedication to service as has any hero of history. We are the “spring of hope.”

Despite fears of contagion, clinicians have walked headlong into the risky call of service. Environmental Services Department workers have cleaned the rooms of countless COVID-19 patients. Respiratory therapists have stood over patients laboring to breathe and offered hope through the life-giving treatments. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and music therapists have walked with, sung with, and emboldened patients to take one more step, inhale one more breath, sing one more note into the reality of recovery. Patient care associates, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and physicians have entered the lives of patients as the human embodiment of healing. Medical interventions were critical, but the human touch has been divine.

Radiation techs, dietitians and pharmacy staff have provided sustenance, medication and imaging to further the process of recovery. My own profession has worked to create sacred moments and offer rituals on countless occasions for families who could not be present for struggling and dying patients. Prayers, tears and smiles through FaceTime, Zoom and Vocera seemed unimaginable on March 7, 2020.

Although it is impossible to name every compassionate contributor, each has shouldered their respective responsibilities, bravely carrying the baton of duty: Security, Supply Chain Management, social workers, Information Services, Human Resources, Administration, Accounts Payable, leaders from each rung of the management ladder, physician practices, Access Centers, those who are providing vaccines. All have dutifully stood in their respective places, doing what needed to be done. Each person walked into the gap between desperation and hope, sickness and healing, loneliness and companionship. All of us have stood in that daunting place grasping one hand to fear and the other to hope. We prayed for hope to win.

The England of Dickens and Churchill endured the crisis of their time and so provided the inspiration noted on this page. A caregiver will always outlast a crisis. So might the crisis of our time, which will soon be history, provide the inspiration for our children, grandchildren and yet unborn descendants. May our successful battle with COVID-19, that unseen microscopic giant, be a model of our worst of times, yet best of times. When that mysterious virus has been long vanquished, may we reflect that it was our “season of light.” If we are lucky enough to live a long life, many years may be forgotten in the blur of decades. But, this year will never fade from memory. This has been the epoch of our belief. It has been our finest year.

Rev. Wentworth is a chaplain at Norton Brownsboro Hospital

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