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BLOX covid 08

MADISON, W.Va. — David Thompson, of Madison, and Garrett and Elizabeth Johnson, of Beckley, have been among the many essential, skilled and vulnerable residents in West Virginia to face the fear and stress of the pandemic.

They are medical front-line workers.

While Garrett was growing up in Mingo County, West Virginia, he knew he wanted to do the type of work that would always be new, exciting and engaging. Garrett works as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Charleston. Elizabeth developed an interest in nursing while attending high school in Boone County and works as a registered nurse in an intensive care unit in Beckley.

The relentless conflict of COVID-19 has taken a toll across the proverbial battle lines of society, family and individual well-being. And although front-line workers have been willing to risk vulnerability to be a force for good, they have many times felt helpless in their efforts.

“I constantly feel helpless. I don’t know what to do. As a nurse, my job is to make people feel better, and there is no way to do that. I watch them deteriorate and I know what is coming. It is really rough. I frequently see people alone and scared,” Elizabeth explained.

“I go in people’s homes. I have exposure all of the time,” said Garrett. “In the field, we don’t know if a person has COVID or not.”

Garrett added that staffing has been impacted, which requires him and others to work harder during their 24-hour shifts.

“In the beginning, I felt like I was going into a concentration camp or a war,” said Elizabeth.

She explained that she knew people were going to die, and she didn’t know if she would be one of them.

“And coming home was its own ordeal,” she said. “I was gutted for the day. I felt completely defeated. I couldn’t do anything right. Even though I did my best, nothing worked. There was no relief for the patients. I couldn’t work enough to help my fellow nurses. We couldn’t be with our families. And there was the constant worry that we didn’t sanitize enough to protect each other while at home.”

“What health care workers are experiencing is akin to domestic combat,” Andrew J. Smith, Ph.D., director of the University of Utah Health Occupational Trauma Program at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said in a news release from his institution.

According to a study conducted by Smith’s group, more than half the doctors, nurses and emergency responders providing COVID-19 care could be at risk for one or more mental health problems — including acute traumatic stress, depression and anxiety.

Thompson, a registered nurse, has had an additional source of stress during the COVID-19 crisis. Thompson received a kidney transplant in 2018.

“I am on immune-suppressive medications already, so I have a weakened immune system,” Thompson said. “I am not a huge worrier. But I am susceptible to this virus that is tearing through the world, and, obviously, I don’t want to get sick. And of course, I do not want to bring it home to my wife and son.”

While Thompson has treated some COVID-19 patients while working at a Charleston hospital, he does not work with COVID-19 patients exclusively. He said it would be too dangerous for him to do so.

To help him keep his mental equilibrium, Thompson said he tries to keep a strong spiritual routine, including prayer and studying the Bible with his family.

“I try to remember Matthew 6:34, ‘So never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Each day has enough of its own troubles.’ This is important because every day I am getting a curveball thrown at me, whether my body is not cooperating or the outside world is not cooperating,” Thompson explained.

Since the onset of COVID-19, spiritual focus has also helped the Johnsons battle through the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic.

“We made a concerted effort to read a scriptural thought together before we left for work, even though we left very early,” Elizabeth explained.

American psychological and psychiatric associations, while not advocating or endorsing any specific religion, acknowledge a role for spirituality and religious faith in coping with distress and trauma.

Lawrence Onoda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Mission Hills, California, noted a number of ways spirituality can help, including giving people “a positive hope and meaning toward life, comfort by looking for answers and strength from a higher power, and a collective shared experience of support and community.”

“The biggest help for me was having regular times each week on Zoom to be at meetings with our congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are people who are joyful,” said Garrett.

“We have each other and good friends who have an understanding ear. It really helped being able to talk about it,” said Elizabeth.

The Johnsons describe how much they both appreciate having a spiritual haven while the rest of the world is falling apart.

“The website has been a great help. There is always the right article that I need. One article in particular, ‘How to Deal With Isolation,’ has a list of scriptures that have been so helpful. I wrote them on notes and put them around my house and even in my locker at work,” Elizabeth said.

For the Johnsons, such support and spirituality has helped them through their struggles with COVID-19.

“It has given a calmness amidst the insanity,” said Elizabeth. “It reminds us that something is bigger at play than just what we are seeing.”

“After reading the prophecies in the Bible, and then seeing how the pandemic took off, it turbo charges my faith, because we are seeing Bible prophecy fulfilled,” Thompson added. “And the prophecies bring hope. I am happy there will be an end to the problems we are experiencing.”

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