This was a unique DART deployment in every way, besides the fact that we were fighting a novel virus. We are an international relief team that was asked by a NYC hospital to help with the local crisis. Administratively, legally, procedurally, this was a challenge. But the city was suffering; people were without care because the volume was so high. Of course we’d help.
We staffed two floors of a hospital in Manhattan. The floors had previously been closed. Vacant. Gutted, even. Mt. Sinai Beth Israel kicked it into high gear and cleaned up, painted up, stocked up four full floors to turn them into Covid units. We staffed two of them with SP nurses and clinicians, and the hospital stretched and hired still further to fill the other two.
We were a team. We hadn’t met before orientation day, but were suddenly united. We taped up the gaps in each other’s PPE (personal protective equipment), held up each other’s notes to the plexiglass window since nothing could leave the “hot zone”, bounced clinical cases off each other, shared tricks for the electronic medical record, and prayed for each other. These docs and nurses were my family for this deployment. We’d share stories, struggles, laughs, and grief. But we all showed up with one purpose: to use whatever we had to serve others in Jesus’ Name. We were there for a reason, and we knew that we are brothers and sister traversing unfamiliar territory together.
The team unity on a DART is something beautiful, powerful, conspicuous. When Bob and I (and our children, parents, friends, doctors, therapists, bosses) went over and over what the potential costs would be to take a trip like this at a time like this in our personal lives, the team was a significant factor. I’ve worked in really wonderful settings before. For heaven’s sake, my ER team in Indiana has long felt like family, and I have missed them dearly. (Please note, emergency was the one specialty I decided I’d never work in when I was a student. They helped me love it.) Obstetrics, largely fueled by the power of prayer, in India was incredible, even when we had to carry our own soap to the hospital. The joy and encouragement of our SIM team is beautiful and humbling in how great a gift it is. Twenty years of service in Bible studies, youth camps, small groups, missions trips, worship bands, etc, have all borne amazing opportunity to experience being part of this phenomenal family called the Body of Christ.
But nowhere have I functioned as part of a team so united, so focused, so skilled, so selfless, so steadfast as on my two DART deployments. Certainly the fact that we only live together for a month-ish plays into it, but we eat, sleep, work, play, weep, and pray together. Emphasis on the work, which is characteristically long and hard in every way.
The supernatural strength and blessing that is found in and poured out on unity both astounds me and invites me deeper into the impossible.
This Body. Provider rounds, where we update the next shift about each patient’s course, status and plan, happened every morning and evening at 7:00, and we handed off our patients from the unique angles and thought patterns of our specialties in ER, family med, OB, pediatrics, heme/onc, and outpatient internal medicine. Obviously none of us were in our element, but it is not unlike disasters (or Jesus) to push us into uncharted territory. We’d all studied up, rallied our resources (largest being prayer support), said yes, and once again stepped into the unknown. Jesus always trusted the Father to guide and provide for the moment at hand, and expects us to follow Him in it.
Oh, and that huddle of nurses on each shift, each floor, pieced together by the Spirit of Jesus, men and women from every corner of our nation were ready to receive what He gave. The patients all had Covid-19, but they are all individuals with specific stories, needs, and complications. So God brought a contracted elderly woman with skin breakdown over every joint to us, where her “randomly assigned” nurse was a wound care specialist from Alaska. Our heme/onc NP from Minnesota first received a patient with a hemoglobin of 5. The first palliative care patient to arrive on our newly opened floor was welcomed by a nurse from Georgia whose background is in hospice. Our bilingual nurse educator from Florida happily cared for many of our elderly Spanish-speaking patients who couldn’t rally the energy to communicate with a translator on a screen. A pediatrician from South Dakota patiently tended to mentally impaired adults. ER docs from Texas navigated the common but uncomfortably poor vital signs day and night, and were ready to respond when the patient’s breath wasn’t enough. A nurse from Colorado who now works in trauma counseling had long midnight conversations with those who’d faced death and weren’t sure what was next. Mothers credentialed as nurses wiped adult bottoms and spoon-fed dry mouths while the local hospital techs were caught off guard by the humility and compassion on display. On night shift I sat lengths of the dark and lonely hours with dear Mr. V, plagued with anxiety and hallucinations, singing and holding the hand or scratching the itchy left shoulder of this man whose heartbeat flickered on for just a while longer. We passed the sacred hours resting in the nearness of Jesus, waiting for one dawn or another. He’d open his eyes and ask, “why is it taking so long?” I don’t know, my friend. I don’t know. But for the first time in years, you’re not journeying alone.
Today I write, and my telling feels like old news because so much has transpired in these short weeks. Our nation is also feeling so acutely the overwhelming plague of ethnic injustice (it is so difficult for me to use the term “racism” because it seems to validate the false premise that there is distinction of race in different features of humanity). Today we suffocate in flesh under the assault of a virus that wrecks havoc on every bodily system. We suffocate in economics under the weight of inequality, greed, and materialism. We suffocate in community under the oppressive depraved misunderstanding of sanctity of life and the evil of power abused. We the people can’t breathe.
I feel it, the crush of our lostness, of our sin that separates us from the breath of Life and the wholeness of our own selves, and from each other. This isn’t what we were made for, and He won’t leave us here.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.