Coronavirus: Priest's praise as frontline staff weep for dying man

By Eimear Flanagan
BBC News NI

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A Catholic priest has said he will never forget the touching sight of hospital staff weeping and praying with a patient as he died with Covid-19.

When Fr Brian Fitzpatrick was called to give the last rites to a patient, four people were gathered around the man's bedside.

At first, the priest did not know who they were as all four were wearing full personal protective equipment.

He presumed it was the dying man's family as one of them one was in tears.

The others were holding the patient's hand and wiping his brow, while one of the group quietly recited a prayer.

The County Armagh priest took his place by the patient's bed in Craigavon Area Hospital and waited for the prayer to finish.

When he looked up again, he noticed names were written on the group's visors, along with their job titles.

He then realised it was not the patient's family who were weeping, praying and keeping this sorrowful deathbed vigil - instead it was his young nurses and doctors.

image copyrightPacemaker
image captionThe man who had Covid-19 was being treated at Craigavon Area Hospital

Fr Fitzpatrick, who works in the Catholic parishes of Seagoe and Moyraverty, wrote about the incident on his parish Facebook page earlier this week.

"They were the ones comforting him, weeping for him, praying with him," he wrote.

"These are our frontline staff; they are giving everything in service for us and our family members and I will never forget that touching sight and beautiful experience as long as I live."

Hospital visiting has been severely restricted during this current surge in the coronavirus pandemic.

There are some exceptions for end of life visits, but infection risks mean many Covid-19 patients are dying without their families being able to say goodbye in person.

Speaking to BBC News NI, Fr Fitzpatrick said he shared the incident on social media in the hope that the compassion he witnessed from health service staff would give some comfort to grieving relatives.

"That's what a family would bring to their loved one, and here was almost a stand-in family for those who couldn't be at their loved one's bedside," he said.

"The staff were just expressing everything that any human being would do for someone who is close to the end of their life and it was very, very touching and very, very encouraging."

His Facebook post has since been shared thousands of times, prompting many people to express gratitude for the care, kindness and empathy shown by exhausted frontline healthcare workers.

After our Mass for frontline staff today I was called to #CraigavonHospital to anoint someone near the end of life with...

Posted by Seagoe Parish: Derrymacash & Derrytrasna on Tuesday, January 19, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original post on Facebook

Fr Fitzpatrick has been a priest for six and half years and since the pandemic began he has been called to hospitals dozens of times to minister to patients who are dying with Covid-19.

He said he realises he is in a "privileged position" as a hospital chaplain, as many people cannot get into hospitals at the moment to visit patients or see what is happening.

'Their hearts and their humanity'

He paid tribute to frontline staff who were able to show such compassion, despite current pressures.

"I was just so struck by the fact that these professional people, who are highly skilled in the work that they do and bring so much of their learning and their education and their professionalism to their work - were using all that and also their humanity," the priest said.

"What was really reaching out to this patient wasn't so much their degrees and their education, but their hearts and their humanity and the warmth of their own human nature and goodness."

image copyrightFr Brian Fitzpatrick
image captionFr Brian Fitzpatrick shared the story to comfort grieving families

Having spent time with terminally ill patients throughout the pandemic, Fr Fitzpatrick said it was clear that hospital staff are finding this third wave the most difficult.

He believes much of the "energy" staff had to tackle the first wave is now gone, but he added that made their current response all the more impressive.

"They are exhausted and they are wearied and tired, and yet, they still turn up and they still do what they have to do," he said.

"They deal with death all the time, but I suppose it's the volume of it this time and the feeling that this is just coming at them without much easing."

He added: "Sadly, the number of deaths is still rising and that's going to be the case until the peak begins to subside."

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