Testimonies from the frontline – believing healthcare workers in Israel share stories

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“We are worried, and our morale is low. The ward is filled [with patients]. We are now working 12-hour shifts 4 times a week. I ask for prayers for strength and for ability to do our work for God and not man.”

This is a message that was sent from a believing nurse in a COVID-19 unit in Israel to HBF, the Healthcare Believers’ Fellowship. It is one of many cries for help that HBF receives every week.

Founded by Philippe Seguin in 2011, the Healthcare Believers’ Fellowship connects, encourages, and equips hundreds of believers in Israel who work in the healthcare field, from nurses, doctors and midwives to cleaners, physiotherapists and other paramedical professionals, social workers, pharmacists, and hospital administrators.

“One person called me and asked if he is welcome. ‘I’m only a baker who works in a hospital kitchen,’ he said. I told him that of course he is one of us,” Seguin tells KNI.

HBF’s goal is to connect, encourage and train believers in the healthcare professions, and also to pray for one another. As frontline workers, they often witness death, terror victims and terrible diseases upfront, and many even reach a point where they question their faith. This phenomenon intensified with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a KNI article from April 2020, when the pandemic had just started, Seguin told KNI about a nurse whose protective garb was torn while working with a patient, and how she became very fearful and asked for prayer.

When we catch up with HBF, almost an entire year into the pandemic, with a second and third wave, we hear about the difficulties the members of the fellowship endure, and how the second and third wave are much harder than the first.

“I spoke to a doctor from abroad who told me that in his ward they’d normally encounter one death per month, and now it’s one an hour. It’s almost impossible to cope with that. A nurse called in and said she doesn’t know what to do, and that she is tired of covering dead bodies, she is falling apart.”

From an intern in a hospital in Israel, HBF received the following chilling first-hand account:

“It is Saturday evening in the corona ward, and I am the intern in charge this shift. I have forty patients, tens of them serious cases. I start working, hoping not to make mistakes or miss anything. A new arrival comes from the emergency ward. He is 75, is independent and has a clear mind. He arrives with MDA [Magen David Adom, Red Star of David, the Israeli equivalent to the Red Cross] with signs of corona. He has difficulties breathing. I need to admit him, but at the same time, I get a call from a nurse in the ward concerning a 51-year-old in serious condition. ‘Come quickly,’ she says. I am forced to leave the patient that I’m in the middle of admitting and run to the ward. When I arrive, there is another call: ‘CPR in room 40.’ It’s for an 88-year-old man who was infected by his family and has been in a critical condition for many days. It is ten PM. We do CPR, artificial ventilation, adrenalin, tracheal intubation; we try everything to resuscitate him, but eventually I am forced to determine his death. As I go back to the ward to continue to care for my patients, I meet the family of the deceased. They are devastated. They scream at me and violently smash the glass of the pictures hanging in the hospital corridors. We have to call security, and they try to restrain them. ‘We tried everything,’ I explain. ‘I promise you, we worked hard, we tried everything, but we couldn’t resuscitate him.’ I hold the hand of his son, who has calmed down, to encourage him. At the same time, the daughter of a 91-year-old patient comes and grabs my hand. ‘My father is in critical condition. Come and help.’ Again, where am I going? I go, I examine, I determine deaths. Again, again, and again. How long can this go on, I ask myself? Why did I pick a profession with such a heavy responsibility? It’s 2:30 AM now. I am running between patients. I am called to help a pregnant woman in critical condition who needs oxygen. And so it continues. Day after day. Another CPR here, and another devastation there, and more fluids, and more medicines. The staff is tired, and the patients are suffering. We are running from place to place. There is no room for differences in this place. Young and old, religious and secular, Jewish and Arab, everyone arrives here. Please, I ask you – get vaccinated. Don’t wait for this to come to you or your loved ones. Put on masks, keep social distancing, and please – try not to end up here.”

These types of cries for help are often heard at HBF. The hospital administration demands more labor and longer shifts, as the workforce is not enough. Especially when some colleagues are forced into quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

“People call me on the brink of collapse. They finish a night shift and then come back for an evening shift. For some, the shifts are 12 hours, so they work 12 hours, go home for 6 hours, and come back to work another 12. It’s a demanding job physically, mentally and spiritually.”

During the first wave of COVID, in March and April 2020, many medical staff volunteered to work in the COVID wards. Everyone wanted to give a hand to fight the pandemic. With the second wave in summer 2020 and the third wave right now, people don’t want to volunteer anymore.

“It started with the Israelis who came back from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in February 2020. That’s when they opened the first COVID ward in Israel, in Shiba Tel haShomer. Some of our members were working there. Back then, we did not expect it to spread like a wildfire as it did. Back then, people would ask to work in the COVID ward. Now, most people try to get away from it. The hospitals have reached a point where they often have to put pressure on people to work in the COVID wards.”

During the first wave, as the COVID wards multiplied and filled up, other wards stood empty. The masks and the social distancing had almost eradicated the regular flu and pneumonia. “We were used to having many patients hospitalized in the children’s wards in winter, and this year they were almost empty. Many hospitals around the world converted their children’s wards and internal medicine wards into COVID wards.”

“What we see in the second and third wave is similar to what I remember we experienced in the Gulf War. During the first week we had missiles all the time, and we knew how to handle it; we prepared the children, we had safe rooms. And then it stopped for a while, and we thought it was over. When the second wave of attacks begun, just when we thought it was over – I’ll never forget the fear of that one siren that woke us up in the middle of the night. The second and third waves of COVID-19 are similar in that way. Each wave is harder for the medical staff, and for each wave more people are hoping not to have to work in the COVID wards.”

Besides the COVID wards, the pandemic has also changed the way other medical work is being done, and the healthcare system has gone back and forth on how to handle it.

“During the first wave, when they had to open more and more COVID wards, they started to close regular wards. Some hospitals became exclusive COVID hospitals and sent all other patients home. These other patients had to be taken care of at home and by the local healthcare centers. The absurd situation that ensued was that some medical staff were working under immense pressure with COVID patient in the hospitals, while others were put on furlough. And then the medical staff of the local healthcare centers were put under extra pressure, having to receive all the patients that would have normally been in the hospital. There was a lack of physiotherapists, to care for the many patients who had been sent home after surgery without having gone through the proper rehabilitation procedures.”

This situation led to people dying from lack of proper care. After the initial confusion, the policy changed, and the hospitals switched to work with separate wards for COVID and non-COVID, separating the staff in order to ensure that patients wouldn’t be infected by hospital staff. The non-COVID wards are, however, not unaffected.

Here is an update received from a nurse working in an orthopedic ward:

“The ward is full. The lockdown hasn’t prevented people from going outside and getting hurt. Every day new patients arrive, mostly victims of car accidents. I have 37 patients tonight. Hip fractures, pelvic fractures, people who fell in nursing homes, young people hurt from sporting activities. The lockdown doesn’t reduce the number of accidents, it even looks like they have increased. I start my evening shift happy, because I have one more nurse and two aides, and the shift has started well. But then the hospital’s general head nurse arrives and says that they need more staff for the COVID-19 ward. The nurse who worked with me and one of my aides are required to leave. I find myself as the only nurse in charge from 5 PM with just one aide. How am I supposed to give proper care to 37 patients this way and prepare two of them for their planned surgery? Pray. I really need help. Help!”

Please pray for the healthcare workers in Israel, as their load is heavier day by day. And please pray for us at HBF as we reach out to give pastoral care to more and more people in need. You are welcome to join us for our daily prayer times (on zoom) and in our soon upcoming prayer events.  For more details contact the HBF office at [email protected] 

If you wish to donate to HBF’s work, you can contact Phillip Seguin at [email protected] or through HBF’s phone number: +972544886132