Stories of COVID: Hospital chaplains on trying to comfort patients, staff, and themselves during the pandemic

Hospital chaplains are on the frontlines of the pandemic. As COVID-19 has drastically changed, they are able to care for patients, their families, and hospital staff.

FOX 26 spoke with three chaplains from Houston's major hospital systems: Brent Peery with Memorial Hermann Health System, Brian Gowan with Houston Methodist Hospital, and James Denham with Texas Children's Hospital.

This last year and a half have been the most challenging time in their careers. They have witnessed more deaths than at any other point in their careers. 

"We've had more morbidity to deal with in terms of people fighting for life and people at the end of their lives needing some sort of comfort and dignity and compassion and presence," Gowan said. 


They describe the suffering by COVID-19 patients they witness every day stemming from isolation and regret. Patients and families are unable to be together when they need each other the most. 

"The means that we're having to translate the distance through our words, through our presence," said Denham.

Chaplains are also trying to comfort patients virtually, at a distance, or through personal protective equipment.

"It's heartbreaking because, just by nature when someone is in a time of grief, you don't have to be a pastor or chaplain to feel this, the first instinct is to hold someone, to hug them, or to hold their hand," added Gowan. "So, it's very counterintuitive, and that part really is hard for anyone who is wanting to give assurance to someone who is dying."


As for regret, in this wave of the pandemic, they say they see it often among patients and their families. 

"The conflictedness of people not getting the vaccine and I literally have people share with me their regret -- which is quite a moment -- in their pleas to their loved ones, 'You know, I made a mistake. I should have gotten the vaccine,'" Gowan explained.

"I facilitate video calls for families and there was one particular family who said I wish this wasn't so. We made a mistake and we could have protected ourselves better," Denham told FOX 26.


The chaplains are also working to comfort medical staff who are stressed and stretched. 

"Seeing people suffer, seeing people struggle, feeling like you being able to do your job effectively is a life or death, has life or death consequences, that can be very draining," Peery added.

The chaplains are exhausted, too. This wave of the pandemic seems to be harder on them than the previous ones because it could have been prevented if more people were vaccinated.

"I've got to believe that if they had just a clue as to what the reality of this disease was they would think differently about how difficult it is to wear a mask or get the vaccination," Peery concluded.