Volunteer on the frontlines of COVID-19

On the frontlines of COVID-19

Background

As the number of Covid-19 cases rose and the situation in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam worsened, the Good Shepherd Sisters in Vietnam responded to the call from the Archbishop for volunteers to join in the relief efforts during this time of crisis. Young Sisters from the Good Shepherd Sisters in Vietnam have been on the front line since mid-July, reaching out to the poor families in lockdown areas, distributing food and rations; working in hospitals to care for the sick and dying, to support the strained workforce in the healthcare sector.

Sister Francesca Do, who works as volunteer to serve the patients in the specific hospital for COVID-19 patients only, shares her compelling story.... 

 

Photo      

Sister Francesca Do

 

Francesca's personal reflections

“You’re always assigned on shifts with special situations, you must have lots of experience,” my co-worker said to me. Honestly, I have neither been in such painful situations nor have I ever wished to be in such situations.

After each painful and emotional encounter, the whole scene, the images, the emotions linger on in my mind.  I pray for strength and perseverance, and I remember the words of our beloved Mother Foundress, “Work to become worthy of your wonderful vocation, by a burning, active and alert zeal and a charity without limits, always keeping the Good Shepherd before you as your model.”  The Good Shepherd says, “I have come that they might have life, life to the full.” (John 10:10).  These words give me inspiration to model after Jesus, the Good Shepherd, it gives me courage to go out, to give life, life to the full.

Upon arrival at the hospital on my first day reporting for work, I was immediately told to assist the Doctors in efforts to resuscitate a Covid-19 patient.  Sadly she passed away.  That very same day, another patient whom I assisted to maintain her personal hygiene passed on without saying goodbye.  And today, I encountered my first experience of wrapping a dead body.

It is my practice whenever I begin my shift, to observe all patients in the ward, to take note if there were any transfers or new patients.  Today, my heart felt lighter as I noticed that the medical condition of three patients had improved, and they were transferred out of the Intensive Care Unit.  There was a new patient.  However, as I was looking at the patient’s record and when I looked at his face, I noticed that something was amiss.  Approaching nearer, I realized he was gone.  I shivered for a while before I calmed down.  If this experience had happened to me in the past, I would panic and run away.  But today, I feel I am different, I’m more composed and firmly believed that God is with me every step of the way.  I stood beside his body, prayed and entrusted his soul to God’s mercy.  The Doctors and nurses approached and asked me to help them wrap the body.  Look at me now, one hand holding the wound, the other hand gently pulling out the tubes from his body.  Carefully and respectfully, my eyes stared at death in the face, then I looked closely at his chest with hope against all hope for any sign of life.  Sometimes the vapour on my face shield made me feel dizzy and it felt like he was still breathing, his chest rising and falling.  “No, no, he’s already gone”, I reminded myself.  

Reflecting on the experience, I wonder - where does the strength, where does the courage come from, that I am able to do these works?  Is it not the love of Christ which dwells in me?  In that moment, I recognize the grace of God given to me, to reach out to myself and to the suffering, that I may carry out this meaningful work of reaching out, giving dignity and love especially to the many who are in the hospital, who are feeling so afraid, so vulnerable, so lonely, with no family or loved one beside them as they breathed their last… 

 

“Oh, how much love and compassion we must have for these souls entrusted to our care…Love them, love them very much! Comfort them, strengthen these suffering sheep, make them happy, very happy. Never forget that you will win hearts only by love.” Conferences, p. 466

 

My responsibility continued, I had to take photographs of his body for record purposes.  After which, it was time to wrap the body, a very simple form of wrapping.  The body was placed on a shroud, the edges were brought together and sealed with sticky tape, the wrapped body was then placed in a body bag and finally zipped up.  In carrying out the physical act of wrapping his body and preparing him for his final journey, it was important for me to give him dignity and ensure that the whole process was carried out respectfully and prayerfully. 

His name, age, phone number and home address had to be written on the body bag.  However, the whole process was delayed as the records only showed his name and year of birth.  It took an hour to find out his address.  I felt sad that it took so long to complete the process, but I also understood that in the current situation, saving a person is top priority.  All other administrative matters such as gathering address, phone number are details can be completed later.  But in his case, I felt sorry for the delay due to the information not being readily available.  After completing the required documents, it was time for him to be laid to rest.  I was the only person to follow through on his case.  On behalf of his family, I was there to send him off with my respectful and heartfelt bow and prayers.  Though the funeral rites were rushed and simple without much thought or preparation, the heart of this sender is warm with love and compassion, wishing him a new safe journey to his eternal place of rest. 

The personal experiences of the tragedies and sufferings make my heart ache with pain.  Whenever I see patients hospitalized, I look at them with compassion for they are afraid that they might not have the opportunity to return home to be with their loved ones.  Our presence in this place is to bring hope, love and care to offset the absence of their loved ones in this most difficult time of their lives.  With faith and love, I hope that behind the protective clothes we wear, the patients can feel our warmth and love that there is still someone here to care for them.  That is the mission of our volunteer team in this place.

With this experience, I now appreciate the frontliners who risk their lives daily to minister to patients affected by COVID19.  I pray for each one of them; as they reflect compassion, care and concern for each patient that they encounter, may they and their families remain safe and protected. 

I feel privileged to have been called to journey with persons to their final resting place.  May their souls rest in peace in whatever religion they practice. 

Sr. Francesca Do

August 6th, 2021