A chaplain at a local hospital is stepping up to help nurses during this relentless “pandemic war” using the coping skills he learned as a US Army veteran.
After months of listening to nurses describe the trauma they endure on daily 12-hour shifts, Mark Schimmelpfennig realized the need to teach these skills to frontline workers.
“That pain, that emptiness, that weight that you might feel that causes some guilt, some shame; there is a cumulative effect of what you see, what you do and what you may have seen without doing anything,” he said.
The minister explained to NBC 5 that the trauma is not only affecting their mental state, but also their physical health.
“Going day after day after day, putting on this protective gear…it’s like armour,” Schimmelpfennig said.
In June 2021, the “Growing Forward” pilot program was born. He teaches nurses like Allan Gonzalez-Caracheo and Elise Deleon how to deal with trauma using mindfulness, art, and even yoga.
“You unload a patient, five minutes later you get another patient,” Gonzalez-Caracheo said. “I feel like they helped me express myself and release all the emotions I had; and just having someone to lay your head on their shoulder.
“It’s a bit strange that we can identify with a veteran when we are in this position, but we are on the front line,” added Deleon. “It was helpful to have someone available to talk to.”
Program nurses attend small group counseling sessions with mental health experts and counsellors. The pilot program is a collaborative effort with various departments at Rush University Medical Center where Schimmelpfennig says he works on “spiritual healing.”
“People were able to take ownership of their experiences [and] normalize their experiences,” he said. “One of the biggest takeaways was that they could look at each other, all of these nurses who were in the room with us, and knew they weren’t alone.”