How Do You Smile through a Mask?

By Sarah Heynemann, reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.

It’s a pretty difficult time to be giving bad news to patients in the hospital at present. A young patient presents with a seeming innocuous musculoskeletal complaint and leaves hospital the recipient of an advanced incurable cancer. How do you relay this news with compassion and empathy at any time? What about when your voice is muffled and indistinct under a mask? When it’s difficult to even smile with your eyes behind a face shield? If you can’t sit down beside them on the hospital bed because you should be keeping your 1.5m distance? If in fact no-one is sitting beside them to receive this news, to process this news or to sit after the medical team has gone for the aftermath of this news?
 
I have been wrestling with the above thoughts after a particularly memorable patient encounter recently wondering what we could have done better – understandably as would be the case at any time, the patient in question was devastated but it all felt so much more impersonal and clinical under the constraints of COVID PPE.
 
So how do you transmit compassion through PPE? How do you smile through a mask?
 
This is a question facing all Melburnians as of 11:59 PM tonight whether you work in a hospital or not.
 
In clinical scenarios like the one above I am reminded of my ordinariness as a doctor and the blatant limitations of my craft. Doctors may vary in bedside manner or years of experience but ultimately we all draw our tools from the same box, deploy them to the best of science’s ability and await the response. I have nothing extra special to give in my human strength than my colleague in the room next door. This is a difficult scenario for anyone to navigate.
 
At the same time however I am reminded of the extraordinary God who has walked this path as a human on earth before – the suffering servant. I take stock and marvel and cannot comprehend the magnitude of grace which sees the great I AM condescend to listen to us as humans when we call out to Him (Psalms 18:6), but man am I glad to know it for these scenarios in July 2020 in Melbourne!
 
Jesus invites each of us who are thirsty to come to Him, promising that from “the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” As reminded in a sermon recently the analogy is not a stationary repository of water such as a lake or pond but rather a river – which moves and flows beyond us to those around us. The kind of water that requires no bucket to retrieve it and gushes up as a spring to “eternal life.”
 
I reckon it might just be the kind of water that can permeate the three material layers of yours and my face mask tomorrow. 
 
I pray that as you go about the kingdom work that God has called you to in the present season, ministering to the thirsty neighbor near you – whoever that is, however it is that God has gifted you uniquely – that you would be reassured as I am to know the relief of the Holy Spirit with you. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
 
As an addendum to usual devotions I would ask, however, that you might consider those you may know working in aged care homes or hospitals in Melbourne at present to partner with them in prayer – whether they be ward clerks, orderlies, cooks, doctors, nurses or allied health staff. It is a challenging time of unprecedented isolation and loneliness for many patients given recent restrictions barring visitors on-site unless exceptional circumstances in many major hospitals. These workers need God’s help and strength to bring hope on the ground when family and friends may not be allowed. Please pray as a medical colleague of mine has asked – for “creativity” to see windows for small acts of compassion. Please pray as a pastoral care colleague has asked “please keep praying that I/we can represent the Kingdom well.” Thank you, team.
 
John 4: 11-14
 
The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it? Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
 
John 7:37-39
 
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
 
Acts 1:7-8
 
He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

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