Faith Works 10-18-14
An uneasy posture for prayer
Have you ever visited someone in the hospital who was on isolation precautions?
There's a sign on the room's closed door, usually requiring that you check with the nurses' station. And sometimes instructions in large print, along with a rack for a box of latex gloves, masks, and gowns, maybe even shoe covers.
Depending on the infectious agent involved, they may ask even with all that, you please don't touch the patient, or even the bed, and basically not anything in the room. So there you are, a pastoral presence, come to hold hands, bend over the ailing individual, and pray with them for hope and wholeness and healing. And you can't hold hands, even with gloves, you can't hardly come within a few feet of the patient, and bowing your head makes the mask slide off your nose as you speak, your moving lips pushing the fabric up and down as your glasses (or goggles, in some cases) fog over.
Then you leave the room, and . . . yeah. Getting the stuff off, remembering that in theory, any exterior surface is now "contaminated," or maybe I should just say *contaminated*, is just as important as how you handle yourself with the sick person, so you try to pull and untie and remove all you put on in a layered confusion of slightly nervous amusement.
Multiply the garments, the anxiety, the confusion, and eliminate the amusement, and we'll have what it will mean to minister to someone with the Ebola virus.
For what it's worth (my medical degree came from a Cracker Jack box, but I *do* have a bachelor's degree in political science!): I think it utterly inevitable that we will see another few clusters of Ebola strike around the United States, and it is entirely impossible for it to sweep the country as it is in western Africa. It just won't. But it will be very difficult to anticipate exactly where some additional outbreaks will appear over the next couple of years.
So we're ALL gonna need some new protocols, and the respect given them called for by a disease that kills 60-70% of those who catch it regardless of care. It's hard to catch, thankfully, but just as hard to identify and isolate without asking the world to stop turning for a month or two.
And that statement should not be the basis of your future stock picks, travel plans, or whether or not you move to fist bumps over handshakes and hugs. I'm just telling you how the data I see are lining up.
The second nurse now diagnosed in Texas was, apparently, literally becoming contagious for the first time *as* she flew from Cleveland to Dallas, returning home. She had the virus in her system during the visit to Ohio, but no symptoms, and we're told no ability to transmit until it became systemically active . . . but that was starting as she boarded, going by her temperature. Again, a complete halt to the spread would require a global "freeze in place" for everyone for about six weeks, and politically and economically that's not going to happen.
I wrote one column for this week earlier last weekend. Some events down the road from Dallas, in Houston, had me writing a new, second one (I haven't thrown it out yet, maybe it needs another week to mature). This is, I think, the first time I've written three columns for a particular Saturday, and it's being sent in, as is usually the case, on Wednesday afternoon.
By the time you read this, I'm not sure what you'll be hearing about Ebola in America. As people of faith, we should already be in prayer for the thousands dealing directly with the disease and its spread in west Africa; there's the spread in Spain as well as our own county that all are doubtless already in your intercessions.
Along with prayer, how will we DO presence when (not if) such a disease comes our way? And I ask this not in any sense of profound panic, but to let those who don't go into hospitals much know that there are already great changes afoot, and more to come. Isolation precautions are much less unusual than they were a few years ago, and that's right now.
I'm acutely aware of how challenging it is to be pastorally present, to bring the blessings of community, to someone in the hospital, let alone when they're in isolation. Let's start thinking now about what pastoral care will look like in the Age of Ebola.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about ministering in challenging circumstances at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.