The last thing I thought I would be doing for my birthday this past May was having emergency gallbladder surgery. Having chicken tamales from my favorite Mexican restaurant and watching Roman Holiday (my favorite movie), yes. Being doubled over in the worst pain I’ve ever felt in the ER? Not so much. Nor did I count on being admitted to the hospital again for an emergency blood transfusion a month and a week after my surgery.
Unfortunately, I am no stranger to ER trips. I’ve had close to two dozen trips in the past year due to a number of chronic illnesses and emergency situations. Still, things have been even more intense in the last few months, which has also been harder due to the COVID pandemic.
While I was allowed to be dropped off by family or friends, they were immediately sent away, not to return until I was discharged. If you end up being hospitalized, like I was, it also gets incredibly lonely and isolating since they’re trying to keep the virus under control in the hospital. That’s not the worst of it. Let me share with you some items from my experience for your awareness and for your prayers for the sick and hospitalized during these times.
No priests allowed
Both times I was hospitalized, I asked for a Catholic priest to come anoint me, especially before the surgery, Although I go to a “Catholic” hospital, they denied my request. No priests allowed because of the COVID rules. There was a non-denominational chaplain but, in all honesty, I wasn’t comfortable speaking to him. I’m sure he was nice and all but my faith is the most important thing in my life so I wanted to talk to a Catholic priest.
They were able to have a Catholic priest (someone I knew from my former parish) call me before my surgery to pray for me over the phone but it wasn’t the same. There is a real, undeniable comfort about having a priest physically present to give you a blessing before you go through something like surgery. I don’t know if they have an exception to the rule for the COVID wing of the hospital – especially if the patient is dying – but my understanding was that no priests were allowed, period.
Finding time for prayer, but being unable to pray
While I was in and out of the hospital for my transfusion, I was in the hospital for a couple of days for my surgery. Since they do consider themselves a Catholic hospital, they do have crosses or crucifixes in every room. I also had access to EWTN on the TV though I kept falling asleep during the Masses because I was so physically exhausted from what my body was being put through. Thankfully, I was allowed to have my mother bring me my blessed Benedictine crucifix and the Little Office to be able to pray.
Here’s the most difficult thing about being very sick and/or being physically drained from medical procedures: you fall asleep all the time. I haven’t been able to get through my usual prayers since my ER and hospitalization trips began because I’m so wiped. I will almost always fall asleep while praying the Rosary. I’ll get only one Divine Office hour in, if I’m lucky, per day. Some days, I can’t even do that and I will go all day without a single prayer (on my harder days).
It’s so easy to get down on yourself for the lack of prayer. I’ve definitely gone down that road before. However, I’m blessed to have both a wonderful spiritual director and an Oblate master (I’m a Benedictine Oblate novice) who have both reminded me that physical suffering and pain can be a form of prayer. I can offer up my ailments, pains, and discomforts for others (especially souls in purgatory), which we often don’t consider.
It’s not all bad
Lest you think it’s all bad, it’s not. Yes, the situations have not been ideal. Yes, I wish I had regular access to priests, the Sacraments (that’s a whole different story), and that my prayer life wasn’t as poor as it’s been. However, there has been a lot of good that has come from it.
As a young woman who is discerning consecrated virginity, I’ve found that all the time spent at the hospital on my own (and you will be left alone for hours on end at times) to be fruitful. Knowing that the only consolation I have is that our Lord and Lady never abandon us makes your love for them grow exponentially. I’ve been able to reflect on Christ’s suffering and it’s made me appreciate all he went through even more. In a sense, I’m fallen more in love with Him as a result.
There have also been times when I’m very much awake and have been able to pray the rosary (at the very least). I’ve had rooms to myself as an admitted patient but in the ER, you can sometimes share a large room with up to 3 other people. You can hear the agony in their voices when they groan in pain. You unwillingly hear what the doctors tell them because the only thing that separates you is a thin curtain. You can hear how sick they are and, while you can’t do anything to physically help them yourself, you can still pray for them (e.g. dedicating a decade of your rosary for them) and offer up your own pain and/or worries for them. You may never see their faces or know anything but their gender but it doesn’t matter. God knows who they are.
Life as a Catholic patient in a hospital during the COVID pandemic is not easy. You can feel the pangs of loneliness, frustrations, and worries (including worries about potentially catching the virus while in the hospital). When you have to have a major procedure done and can’t get access to the Sacraments, it feels even worse. It’s so easy to let the devil poison your mind with thoughts that God doesn’t love you or has abandoned you because you’re suffering, alone, and can’t have access to priests or the Sacraments. However, God will always remind you that those are lies and that He is there with you, especially during your suffering.
While I don’t recommend anyone getting sick during this time—especially with the second wave happening across several states at the moment—prepare yourself in case you do find yourself having to need medical attention. Don’t forget to always have a Rosary somewhere on you. You don’t know how comforting it is to simply feel those beads in your hands than when you’re in a worrisome situation.
Patron saints of hospital workers, of sick people, and of pandemics, pray for us!
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