The rasping whisper of pressurized air through a ventilator expanded a patient’s chest. He was sedated, so he did not hear the accompanying hypnotic hum and click of the machinery. Nor did he notice the hectic pace of nurses rushing to care for emergency codes from other patients on ventilators. He lay isolated from family and friends in a typical respiratory care ward during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daniel Torres, a respiratory therapist from Lehigh Acres, Florida, has cared for and lost too many patients in this situation. He has seen them come into the hospital, has cared for them over a period of weeks, and has gotten to know them. However, as the patient’s health deteriorated, a ventilator became their last resort for survival. All too often, Torres was there when an end of life decision had to be made, so he chose to do small things like holding a patient’s hand while their life slipped away.
Depleted from the non-stop pace, mentally and emotionally drained, he recalls asking himself, “When is this going to end? Is it even going to get better?” He said there was always the fear “I was infecting myself and my family. It’s always a concern, coming home, and though I take all the precautions there is still that lingering fear that today I got infected. Maybe I was exposed, or infected tomorrow, or will I get my wife sick. It’s a fear.”
Torres contended with the stress and grief of the work itself and the additional concern that he might be risking his own life and the lives of his family despite following extensive safety precautions.
Many medical workers like him are exhausted from working through the pandemic. With variants straining short-staffed facilities across the country, some workers on the frontlines are experiencing added physical, mental and emotional stress.
“What healthcare workers are experiencing is akin to domestic combat,” Andrew J. Smith, Ph.D., director of the University of Utah Health Occupational Trauma Program at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said in a press release from his institution.
According to a study conducted by Smith’s group, more than half of the doctors, nurses and emergency responders providing COVID-19 care could be at risk for one or more mental health problems—including acute traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety
What has given Torres the strength to keep going? “Praying for peace has helped me a lot,” Torres said.
American psychological and psychiatric associations, while not advocating or endorsing any specific religion, acknowledge the role spirituality and religious faith can play in coping with distress and trauma.
Lawrence Onoda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Mission Hills, California, noted some ways spirituality can help, including giving people “a positive hope and meaning toward life, comfort by looking for answers and strength from a higher power, and a collective shared experience of support and community.”
Torres treasures practical counsel from the Bible. He finds Jesus’ advice to take one day at a time especially meaningful. “If I think about what the whole week will bring or what the whole month will bring, it will be too much. I have to think one day at a time. One moment. That way, I can have peace.”
He also shared that articles on Pandemic Fatigue that he found on JW.org helped him "not feel so stressed when going to work."
“I feel a deep joy and appreciation for the things that I have learned in God’s word. I can feel peace and happiness even in the face of trying situations. The hope that there will be a better future, (and that) soon we won’t have any suffering, helps me to keep going,” Torres concludes.