Written by Jessica Ribera & Julie Hernandez
As we all know from the news and word from our friends and families, COVID-19 puts particular pressure and demand for sacrifice on the healthcare community. This is a wonderful time for us to dedicate some blog space to getting to know the healthcare workers in our church family. Interview questions were sent out to many, but please let us know at email@example.com if you work in the field and have not received the questions!
Every week or so, we will hear from our frontline workers. To begin: Julie Hernandez, a nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Julie’s thoughtful, open responses will move and bless you. Certainly, they bring honor to our God.
Do you consider your profession as a medical provider an important part of your identity? How so? What aspects of God’s image do you find yourself displaying (don’t be shy!)?
JH: Yes, becoming a nurse felt like a calling in a way that is difficult to explain. The idea was planted while completing my first degree and doing a hospital internship. The act of serving and caring for those in need was so appealing to me that it completely changed my career path. I had originally wanted to work with athletes in a sports recovery capacity but stepping into the hospital was like coming home for me.
I loved every single aspect of taking care of the sick. I even tried to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t go back to nursing school, such as the financial cost, not being smart enough, and the inability to get into a nursing program. However, other people kept planting that seed inquiring if I had considered nursing, even when I was interviewing for jobs, I often was asked this question. So, when I finally began to look into the possibility of going back to school, the Lord was so faithful, and the doors just seemed to fly open. I was provided with scholarship help and despite nursing programs being back logged, I was accepted into a brand-new nursing program with Texas Tech School of Nursing. I received my BSN in two years. Despite my feeling inadequate before every single test, the Lord guided me, and I ended up graduating summa cum laude.
I felt the Lord’s provision throughout my entire journey and have no doubt that He was calling me to take up my place in nursing. I use my emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical abilities daily by praying, crying, or being in awe of humanity. The aspect about nursing I love most is that, despite technology, human connection is always prevalent in my profession. The social norms of keeping interactions on a superficial level fall away, and I am honored to be a safe person that my patients decide to trust during their most vulnerable moments. I feel in some ways this is how Jesus interacts with us on a deeper level. But the privilege and honor is never lost on me when a person gives up a sense of control and hands over their trust. I try to care not only for their physical body but their souls as well, often praying silently as I perform my duties.
I feel God’s presence most days, especially when I slow down and ask Him to guide my hands and heart as I care for others. Regarding God’s image, nursing allows me to exhibit compassion, kindness, gentleness, servanthood, empathy, sympathy, protection, and healing. Being a nurse is absolutely an important part of my identity, it is undeniably interwoven with my connection to Jesus. He called me into this profession, and I feel that I am serving Him by my becoming a nurse.
What are the aspects of your job right now that most feel like a chore or burden? When do you find yourself sending up those “I’m trying, God. I need you now!” kind of prayers?
JH: Of course, I am anxious about being exposed to illness, but I don’t feel it is a burden to care for the sick and most vulnerable little ones at this time. I have cared for all sorts of patients including those with tuberculosis and AIDS diagnoses all while trying my best to protect myself. However, I trust the Lord to protect me and know that from an eternal perspective my physical body is only temporary.
Perhaps having a cancer diagnosis has helped me to accept that my body is temporary and to trust the Lord to call my spirit home when he decides that the physical body is no longer needed. I still pray for a long and healthy life, but I acknowledge that He is in control and has the final say.
The biggest burden I currently face is serving in my role as charge nurse on my unit. My job is to help support our staff by calming them and helping to facilitate the constant changes that we are facing on a daily basis. I receive the venting and sometimes anger of many people, but I am just one. There are days that I feel emotionally drained by having to steady the anxiety levels of multiple staff members. My daily prayer is for wisdom and a constant source of grace to offer to each and every person that needs it.
Illnesses and delays can cause heavy stress for families, and I am the buffer between these families and our staff. I often must de-escalate these situations. I also deal with my own chronic illness and fatigue is a real part of my symptoms, however I throw myself into work and often ignore my own physical needs until I come home and crash. I am not very good at pacing myself and find that this limitation is humbling and frustrating. It is during my crash and burn days that I am most frustrated and feel a sense of guilt for having to stay in bed for a portion of my day. I am thankful that rest can be rejuvenating, but I wish I didn’t require so much sleep to keep my immune system healthy.
Do you feel a significant change in your approach to your work in this time of pandemic? What’s different?
JH: Yes, I feel a greater sense of responsibility for the staff. As I am rounding, I can see the stress, worry, and fatigue on everyone’s face. There is a heightened sense of danger and pressure to protect our vulnerable kids. As a charge nurse, I am handling private information about staff’s concerns, and I feel a deep responsibility to protect them and help reassure those who are struggling. Our department leaders are working remotely for good reason, but this means that the charge nurse is the go-to person for all concerns. My last few shifts have been so busy that I have barely stepped away to eat or go to the bathroom. There is an urgency to get this right, and I don’t want any of our patients to suffer from a misstep on our part.
What is one thing you most wish people (especially Christians at Trinity!) understood about you or your work? Can you share a thing or two about your life right now that keeps you up at night?
JH: I often struggle with guilt between choosing to serve my job and or the church. My job takes a great deal of my energy and as mentioned earlier, there is a need to recoup after particularly long and stressful shifts. I have to balance self-care with the demands of my work, and sometimes I feel that other areas in my life suffer.
Finding the energy for fellowship and church activities during a work week can be challenging for me as my schedule is unpredictable. I am also probably 60% introverted. I love the hustle and bustle of my job, but the crazy environment can be overstimulating. I rejuvenate on my days off by spending solo time walking or working in my yard. However, I feel guilty that I am not taking this time to connect with the body of Christ.
I struggle with sleep and mostly think about making a mistake at work or putting someone at risk because of a judgement call on my part. I worry about becoming sick and not being able to work and the impact this would have financially. I worry about the exposure that our patients and staff currently face and our hospitals not being able to handle a surge of sick patients. I worry about health care providers having to sacrifice our own health due to lack of supplies.
How can Trinity members best serve their friends and neighbors who work in healthcare?
JH: This is a good question. Maybe making ways to connect that don’t require physically being present at a certain time – like an ongoing Bible chat forum that allows those with fluctuating schedules to jump on when they have a moment. Sending a prayer text, notes, or voicemail is always uplifting. The long hours can pose a challenge to preparing healthy home cooked meals. I think the meal train for new moms is wonderful, and maybe there is a way to incorporate meal drop-offs for healthcare workers too. I would never ask someone for that, but I am trying to think about what would be meaningful for my staff and food is always comforting when you are worn out and tired. Hugs, smiles and high fives are also always welcome (of course from a distance currently!!)
Julie wrote us again to give everyone this final word of encouragement.
JH: Watching one of our tiny patients sleeping peacefully in his mom’s arms after surgery reminded me that I too can find restoration and healing in Christ. It also reminded me that I am exactly where I am supposed to serve, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Serving our precious little ones during this time of crisis is stressful but also the greatest of all honors.