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Vietnam

Lessons from Vietnam's Covid-19 field hospitals

Protective gear could prevent patients from seeing the faces of medical workers and volunteers but could not stop eye contact

Father Giuse Nguyen Ngoc Khang, SJ

Father Giuse Nguyen Ngoc Khang, SJ

Published: November 10, 2021 07:21 AM GMT

Updated: November 10, 2021 09:19 AM GMT

Lessons from Vietnam's Covid-19 field hospitals

Volunteers, medical workers and officers at a field hospital for Covid-19 patients in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of giaophanxuanloc.net)

In life, every debt is an onerous burden to bear, so no one wants to be in debt. However, there are debts that fail to weigh us down but make us heavy with indebtedness. That is a debt of gratitude.

When reading Ho Chi Minh CityArchbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang's open letter inviting religious to voluntarily join frontline forces at field hospitals for Covid-19 patients, I had an overwhelming but inexplicable urge to be part of it. 

I did not understand the urge clearly until a confrere wished me to bravely enter a pandemic center, spreading love and giving a pastoral heart to the sick sheep. Going out means offering Jesus’ kind heart.

Now, after one month of serving at a field hospital, I comprehend that the invitation is a gift from God. It is an excellent opportunity for me to digest God's pastoral heart and for my heart to be molded into his heart. It can be said that when I set off, I owed a debt of gratitude.

During my service, I once blessed the body of the dead distant relative of a nurse at the hospital morgue. The nurse gravely told me about his last night when he had no loved ones by his side and was surrounded by strange sounds of medical equipment and strangers.

I was a little startled by the word "strange" as Covid-19 patients were struggling hard with not only the contagion but also scary things that were entirely foreign to them.

A caring and supportive gaze could provide great encouragement and comfort for patients

I began to understand that the presence of religious volunteers must help repel "strangeness" in order to create friendliness and closeness through our very service attitude. By reaching out to patients, we volunteers learn how to be loved ones to them. And I have another debt of gratitude.

A friend of mine, after watching short video clips of our work in the hospital, was immediately struck by the religious' luminous and warm eyes. Protective gear could prevent patients from seeing the faces of medical workers and volunteers but could not stop eye contact between them and patients.

I learned the importance of eyes or "the window of the soul.” A caring and supportive gaze could provide great encouragement and comfort for patients. One more thing I learned and thus owe another debt of gratitude.

I also anointed a middle-aged woman with oil and wished her to quickly recover from the illness and return to her family. However, less than a week later I had no opportunity to see her again. I could only go with her for a short distance.

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The daughter of a female patient who was in emergency treatment asked me to help her work as a volunteer in the hospital so that she could care for her mother. When I anointed her mother with oil, both she and I were optimistic and confident of her health. We prayed for her mother and hoped that she would recover soon.

But as her mother's health gradually deteriorated, I had a heavy heart over my previous words of encouragement. I did not know what to tell her as she was rather hysterical.

Maybe that is the reality of life: we can only go with one another for a leg of life. This is one of the hardest lessons of faith. Both I and the patients’ family relatives must learn how to let go of everything and to trust that there will always be the last hand to hold patients at the last moment of their life.

However, besides bitter tears, I still saw glimmers of beatific smiles on patients' faces. I clearly remember the face of an old man who wore warm gentle smiles although he suffered from partial paralysis and had one lost eye.

Every time I changed his diaper, I asked about his health and he always answered with smiles as if they were the only things he had.

I did not have a clue if he understood my words, but his smile created warm and peaceful moments in the Covid-19 resuscitation hospital, which not only suffers from loss and pain but is filled with delirious joy and high hope.

This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published by tgpsaigon.net here.

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