The struggle in opposition to COVID, a chaplain says, unfolded on ‘sacred floor’


Like every hospital, Windfall Holy Cross Medical Heart is stuffed with working rooms, analyzing rooms, nurses’ stations and labs. However to Kevin Deegan, the hospital’s senior chaplain, it additionally comprises sacred locations — locations the place profound, heartbreaking and loving issues occurred because the pandemic took maintain.

We’re near reaching a as soon as incomprehensible milestone: 1 million American lives misplaced to COVID-19. comprehend such loss? A technique, says Chaplain Kevin (as everybody calls him), is to go to these sacred locations.

As a photojournalist, I’ve been documenting the pandemic inside Windfall Holy Cross and 13 different Southern California hospitals. I had photographed Chaplain Kevin as he comforted docs and nurses, in addition to sufferers of their final moments. He’s amongst hundreds of hospital chaplains throughout the nation who’ve carried out such work.

He agreed to spend time with me to mirror on what we had heard and seen. He requested that I return to the hospital on Easter Sunday, a time of rebirth.

Medical workers wearing protective gear as they handle a white body bag

Medical staffers transfer the physique of a COVID-19 affected person on New Yr’s Eve in 2020, one in all three to die in fast succession that morning at Windfall Holy Cross Medical Heart.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Chaplain Kevin holding an iPad during a video chat

Chaplain Kevin chats by video with an almost 102-year-old affected person and her household in 2020.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

We meet outdoors the hospital chapel, the place he suggests a strolling tour of the items the place I had seen him and the medical employees arduous at work. In any case, the work of a hospital chaplain just isn’t carried out in an empty chapel.

Carrying a masks and carrying an iPad, the 36-year-old chaplain propels a door broad open and simply sprints up two flights of stairs, leaving me to catch my breath. For Chaplain Kevin, the stairwell meant greater than only a place to sneak in some train. He stops simply shy of the door to the third flooring.

“The stairwell is the one place that wasn’t affected by COVID,” he says. “It’s the house within the hospital that you would be able to overlook — deliberately overlook what has been occurring. And for that small second, arising the steps — the power to overlook and never have to consider COVID — generally is a sacred house.”

He seems out the big home windows to a good looking morning, crisp and clear. He pushes on the silver door deal with and gently opens the door.

A man sprinting up two flights of stairs

Chaplain Kevin sprints up two flights of stairs on the hospital on April 17. Right here, he says, an individual can “deliberately overlook what has been occurring.”

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

“As you stroll by this door, you will notice what I usually see at this time. My flooring. That is very regular. Very typical.”

Employees members greet him with hugs and ask how he’s doing. There may be extra noise than throughout among the worst days of the pandemic. The sound of nurses speaking mixes with the hum of medical tools. Doorways to sufferers’ rooms are open. There aren’t any isolation robes. No N95 masks are being worn within the hallways.

Left: A patient's hand is held by Chaplain Kevin. Right: The chaplain's hands on a patient's chest.

Left: Chaplain Kevin Deegan and Julio Valladares maintain arms on Jan. 12. Proper: Deegan locations his arms on the chest of a affected person as he prays nearly with the person’s household. The grandson of the affected person known as out to his grandfather to get up.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

He compares this peaceable morning to the day in mid-March 2020 when Windfall Holy Cross, situated in Mission Hills, obtained its first COVID-19 affected person. As he walked into his flooring that day, a brand new signal warned employees they may not proceed with out PPE. He stopped in his tracks. He didn’t know what to do.

Certain, he had used private protecting tools a handful of instances round flu or TB sufferers, nevertheless it wasn’t a part of his typical routine. That may all change.

Chaplain Kevin right, kneels beside a hospital patient

Chaplain Kevin kneels beside Domingo Benitez in December 2020.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

First affected person

We stand outdoors the room that held the primary COVID-19 affected person. He remembers talking with Dr. Marwa Kilani, medical director of palliative care, outdoors this room.

“Kilani was speaking to me concerning the affected person. He was dying, and the daughter was on the way in which,” he says.

He requested Kilani what they have been doing to do.

“Effectively, that’s the factor,” she replied. “We aren’t going to be allowed to let her in.”

The chaplain went all the way down to the primary flooring, taking the steps, to fulfill the affected person’s daughter outdoors the foyer. He defined that no guests have been allowed inside, however that Kilani was ready by her father’s room and wished to speak along with her through FaceTime. Utilizing his cellphone, he known as the physician’s iPhone and she or he answered immediately. He handed the daughter his cellphone.

Kilani requested if she wished to see her father. Sure, she mentioned. Kilani, standing on the entrance of the room, held up her cellphone so the daughter may see and discuss along with her dad.

Chaplain Kevin recounts what occurred subsequent: “She mentioned: ‘I can’t be with you in particular person, however I see you. I like you. If you get to heaven, inform Mother I like you. I’m going to be OK. You’re going to be OK. Simply relaxation. Simply relaxation.’

“I used to be sitting subsequent to his daughter and feeling so affected by her phrases,” Chaplain Kevin tells me. “I used to be feeling offended and confused about my function. I knew this was one of the best I may do, and we concluded the decision.

“She handed me the cellphone again, and I assumed she was probably upset, however once we stood up, she hugged me, and she or he mentioned, ‘Thanks for letting me be with my dad.’”

“It was tragic. It was stunning. It was arduous. It was all these issues collectively.”

— Chaplain Kevin Deegan

Subsequent, we discover ourselves outdoors the room the place Bob Harris died. “That is a kind of sacred rooms,” Chaplain Kevin says. “It was one of many first instances we have been capable of get household in through the pandemic.”

Three people standing at the bedside of a hospital patient

Dr. Marwa Kilani, left, stands again as Michelle Harris, middle left, Chaplain Kevin and Marilou Harris pay their final respects to Bob Harris on Dec. 7, 2020.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Two people chat by video on an iPad as Chaplain Kevin, at right in background, prays over a patient

Chaplain Kevin, proper, prays over affected person Bob Harris as Harris’ spouse, Marilou, left, and daughter Michelle be a part of through iPad on Dec. 3, 2020.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

I keep in mind this scene nicely. I used to be there. Nurses have been standing outdoors the room crying as Kilani and Chaplain Kevin walked inside with Harris’ spouse and two kids. That they had come to say goodbye.

The employees had gotten to know Harris and his household nicely as a result of he had been their COVID-19 affected person for greater than 30 days.

“It was tragic. It was stunning. It was arduous,” Chaplain Kevin says. “It was all these issues collectively.”

A man holding an iPad for a man lying on hospital equipment

Chaplain Kevin holds an iPad for Bob Harris to see his household on Dec. 3, 2020.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Left: A hospital patient holds hands with Chaplain Kevin. Right: Two people speaking with a seated hospital patient

Left: Chaplain Kevin Deegan prays with Marylou Samora, 72, on Jan. 12. Proper: Deegan kneels as nurse Cristina Marco leans in to take heed to Domingo Benitez.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

The taped strains on the ground have been eliminated, however the faint marks stay.

The strips of tape marked, in a manner, how the coronavirus had upended life on the hospital. You would go previous the tape provided that you wore protecting gear.

Two people standing at opposite sides of tape on the floor

Chaplain Kevin Deegan, left, talks with nurse Katie Blake on Dec. 31, 2020. The tape on the ground denotes the place folks could not move with out private protecting tools.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Because the virus unfold and the demise toll rose, an increasing number of parts of the hospital have been marked off by the tape.

“It was virtually like a tide,” Chaplain Kevin says of the transferring tape. “The tide would are available and the tide would exit. It’s exceptional {that a} piece of tape was an indicator of how troublesome work was going to be that day. Or how a lot we have been being impacted by this virus.

“When the road was up the hallway, they may really feel defeated as they arrived at work. And when it could recede, we’d all really feel good once more. One thing insignificant like a bit of tape would symbolize the place they have been.”

Earlier than COVID-19 this flooring was the “step down unit,” a step under ICU. It was the primary COVID unit within the hospital however because the virus surged, extra rooms have been added. After which extra flooring, for extra COVID sufferers.

“On the top of issues, each single affected person on this flooring was COVID constructive. And each room was crammed too,” he says.

However on this morning, the temper was far completely different. The unit is busy, however with non-COVID sufferers.

“You may hear too how bustling it’s,” he says. “This isn’t the way it was.”

Chaplain Kevin helps a patient sip water in his hospital bed

Chaplain Kevin helps Juan Legaspi-Lozano, 90, sip water in December 2020.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

A man flanked by computer chairs in a hallway

Chaplain Kevin on the third flooring of Windfall Holy Cross.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Kevin remembers the sound particularly that first morning within the first week of COVID. “It was very disturbing due to how quiet it was. The silence was solely pierced by muffled coughing.”

The cries of households

As we proceed our strolling tour, Chaplain Kevin remembers how, when the constructing was off-limits to guests, folks communicated with their sick relations through iPads.

“Horrible. Simply terrible,” he says. “There have been instances throughout the first few months I used to be doing 10 video calls a day. There have been generally I had a number of iPads going on the identical time in several rooms. I’d have one iPad right here, one iPad there, and I’d be alternating forwards and backwards.”

Listening to the voices of relations was the toughest half.

“Just a few months in, I discovered to say to the household, ‘I’m going to step away and provide you with some privateness.’ A part of that was giving them permission to say what they wished with out me being there to intervene, however a part of it was for my very own self-care.”

Chaplain Kevin hugging a nurse in a hallway

Chaplain Kevin will get a hug from nurse Lindsay Berzon on April 17, Easter Sunday.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

He provides, “I couldn’t tolerate the immense love, loss, and separation. That was the toughest half. Their voices are the factor that sticks with me.”

Ministry of being current

Chaplains, like photojournalists, have to be current to do the work.

“We’re a ministry of presence. We can not supply assist until we’re current. Assist can’t be carried out after the actual fact. I needed to be right here whereas it occurred. I needed to be right here with them so after they seemed to me and mentioned, ‘That is actually arduous,’ I can say I do know as a result of I’ve been right here too.

“I needed to be in particular person. I needed to be with them. Donning and doffing PPE identical to them. Witnessing sufferers of their worst of instances. I needed to be current. There isn’t any different place for me however to be right here. If I wasn’t going to be right here, I wasn’t a chaplain as a result of a chaplain is current.”

I perceive this. I needed to work within the hospitals as a result of this was historical past. I needed to be there.

He needs, Chaplain Kevin says, he may have carried out extra for the COVID sufferers, however then provides, “I don’t know what we may have carried out extra for them. I do know we didn’t fail them.”

Chaplain Kevin Deegan, 36, left, reaches out to Dr. Marwa Kilani.

Chaplain Kevin Deegan, 36, left, reaches out to Dr. Marwa Kilani, MD, proper, as they stand within the nook and take heed to Bob Harris’s household cry at Windfall Holy Cross Medical Heart, in Mission Hills on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. They tried to assist Bob Harris a canopy constructive affected person and so they care about his household. Deegan and Dr. Kilani was in shut contact with Bob’s household whereas he was a affected person. Bob agreed to be positioned on a ventilator however not for long run. Immediately the household has come to the hospital to pay their final respects.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Occasions)

In current days, well being officers expressed concern that coronavirus an infection charges are rising in California. Will circumstances worsen with the arrival of Memorial Day, graduations, Father’s Day and summer season barbecues?

For many who confronted COVID on the entrance strains, it’s arduous to think about.

“I don’t need to be reflecting on COVID with the surging numbers anymore. I don’t need to do this anymore,” Chaplain Kevin says. Then, resolutely, he provides, “However we’ll be right here if that occurs once more. We aren’t going wherever.”

The 1-million mark

On the day we toured the hospital, COVID deaths had already handed 990,000. The chaplain considered the day it could attain 1 million.

“The quantity will likely be a milestone we’ll all acknowledge and have problem comprehending, however allow us to not lose sight of what that quantity represents,” Chaplain Kevin tells me. “What number of tens of millions of individuals have been impacted, not simply the million who had died. The ripple results are incomprehensible.

“The one manner I understand how to make sense of the expertise is to stroll round with you and to level and to face and to cease. And to enter the rooms and to recollect.”

A storage room for medical equipment

A room at Windfall Holy Cross is used to retailer medical tools.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

An empty hospital bed

A hospital mattress lies empty on Easter Sunday.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

We come to the room the place I had first met Chaplain Kevin and Dr. Kilani in 2020. However at this time, there aren’t any sufferers. It now serves as a storage room for medical tools — ventilators and IV stands, all coated with translucent white plastic.

“You may really feel that one thing sacred occurred right here,” Chaplain Kevin says. “It’s virtually like once you stroll into like an previous cathedral, very eerie, but in addition very particular that that you just’re strolling into hallowed floor.

“That’s what this room appears like — that that this floor that you just’re standing on is holy and the holiness, the presence of God, but in addition all of those who have gathered right here to do a sacred work.

“Yeah, it’s like an empty cathedral, and because it pertains to COVID, I say that’s the form of floor I need to be strolling on. Sacred floor.”

Pallbearers carry a casket toward a hearse under a cloudy sky

Pallbearers carry Alexander Frazier to his gravesite after a memorial service at Everlasting Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary on Feb. 22, 2020 in Newhall, Calif.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

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