Coronavirus Conundrum: Being Together While Remaining Apart

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April 17, 2020


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This post is available in: Spanish

When Barbra Streisand sang about “people who need people,” she was right on target. Studies show that human beings have a deeply ingrained need for social contact. When separated, as in this time of pandemic, people can experience increased anxiety and emotional distress. How do we find support, connection and a sense of peace during these troubling times?

That’s the central question in the latest episode of the Baptist HealthTalk podcast, featuring guest Rev. Renato Santos, assistant vice president of chaplaincy services at Baptist Health South Florida. Pastoral care chaplains, representing a number of religious faiths, have specialized training and years of experience providing emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families in times of need.

“What we do every day is to be present, available, and to provide a support to folks,” says Rev. Santos. “We like to say we journey along, we walk with them, through a ministry of presence. It’s not about having the exact answers for folks, but being there with them wherever they are, in times of loss, in times of crisis, in times of disappointment, but also celebrating victories, recoveries and the experience of healing.”

While there’s never a good time to be a hospital patient, COVID-19 has forced hospitals to change their visitor policies, leaving adult patients without the company of family and friends during their stay. Just as with distance learning and working from home, Rev. Santos says technology is helping to bridge the gap.

“We have created resources for patients and families on how to access the technology that’s so widely available today via Zoom and Skype and FaceTime,” he says. “These are means and methods that we normally use in our private lives that a few weeks ago, perhaps, we would not have imagined that we’d be utilizing to such a degree. But it’s become a daily practice for us.”

Here are some Q&As from the podcast discussion between Rev. Santos and host Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., deputy medical director, chief of cardiology and a certified lipid specialist at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. You can access Baptist HealthTalk on your computer or smartphone, or via Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Dr. Fialkow: “What can you say to help caregivers and loved ones in the time when they’re not necessarily connected in space because of the COVID-19 issues?”

Rev. Santos:
“As anyone can imagine, this is probably one of the most difficult aspects of providing care, confidence, support … is when we have to do that remotely and without a face-to-face, without the warmth of closeness. So, all of us are being asked to adapt. And families are having to deal with this very, very difficult situation. And our best hope is that we will facilitate what is a very difficult process, as best as we can, using technology today.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Do you feel a sense of bringing connectivity and developing connectivity with those people in need through these remote type of modalities?”

Rev. Santos:
“In surprising ways, yes. I think we have this assumption that anything that’s mediated through a screen has so many barriers. And perhaps that is true to a significant degree. However, I think what we’re experiencing is it is an efficient method of bringing people together, as we try to do every day, in the midst of a very difficult and dark hour. Can we find the silver lining and find some positives to bring ourselves encouragement and to extend encouragement to others as well? If we can sort of recast this methodology of communication and find positive ways to use it, I think we can accomplish a lot.”

Dr. Fialkow: “How can we help people get up in the morning until they go to sleep, work, family, kids, shopping in this time of need and uncertainty. What kind of simple messages can we give to people that they can actually practice, if you will, at home?”

Rev. Santos:
“There are different approaches to meditation and mindfulness. One might simply try to avoid any thoughts, anything that’s complex. Or one might also recite a prayer or a mantra, or review some pleasant, wholesome thoughts to visit a place in one’s mind where one can feel safe and renewed, and to exercise that for just a few minutes — 5 minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, can make a big difference. Physiologically, it has an impact on how our brain waves work, how our body reacts, on blood pressure. It helps us build our immune system, as science has told us, and it helps us to be able to cope, gives us more resilience for the challenges that we face every day, and especially in a moment of crisis.”

Dr. Fialkow: “You had said that it may seem paradoxical, but there is a hidden strength in shared vulnerability. Can you expand on that thought a little bit?

Rev. Santos:
“So, we are all in this together. We share this common experience of being vulnerable to something that is bigger than we are. And in that sense, I think it may feel that weakness. It’s paradoxical in a way, that it can bring strength. … What I have absorbed, I’ve seen over the last few weeks is people are resilient. Even through distancing, they find ways to create connectedness and togetherness. So I think it’s a tremendous — it’s a ray of hope and it’s something we should hang on to and learn from as we have in crises past, through this resiliency that human beings have, is to take something that is really difficult and challenging and turn it for the better and to find ways to connect, to support, to encourage.”

For the full podcast, you can access Baptist HealthTalk on your computer or smartphone, or via Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand.

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