First responders at OSF Little Company of Mary share pandemic experiences

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 7, 2021

First responders from OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park pose in front of the altar in the hospital chapel on March 3, 2021. The ER nurse and two chaplains shared their experiences serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When the pandemic forced businesses and other institutions to shut down and hospitals were overrun with COVID-19 patients, Krisha Germscheid, an emergency room nurse at OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Evergreen Park, was on her way back from vacation with her husband and young son.

She wondered what she was heading back to at the hospital.

“There was a lot of anxiety early, because I was thinking, ‘Oh my. I’m in for it when I get back to work. What are we in for?’”

Right before the pandemic, Little Company of Mary Medical Center became part of OSF HealthCare. That meant there were new doctors in the ER, a new computer system and some new staff members, which added to the already stressful situation.

“Just walking into that ER my first shift after it was officially a pandemic, everybody was just walking around with confused looks on their faces,” Germscheid said.

Hospitals were working out issues such as what was the correct PPE for their workers, should they get a new N95 mask for every new COVID patient, should they wear full PPE for every patient who comes in with a cough because they didn’t know if it was COVID-19 or not? she recalled.

“Nobody knew. Nobody had answers,” she said. “There was a lot of confusion. Anxiety was very high among staff.”

Germscheid found herself having shortness of breath and chest pains before every shift. She worried about making her husband or 2-year-old son sick.

Then the summer months came and people started to relax. At the same time, more asymptomatic people were coming to the ER with seemingly unrelated pain, only to find out they had COVID-19. Because these patients didn’t have symptoms, PPE wasn’t initially required, and many nurses and other staff became infected too.

Germscheid had COVID-19 in November, along with her husband and son.

Recalling a particularly hard shift where five people “coded” and staff couldn’t revive them, Germscheid said she and her colleagues are wondering if they will have pandemic-related PTSD down the road.

“Another hard part about it was we couldn’t even go to Mass during those times,” Germscheid said.

She kept in touch with her parish priest at St. Gabriel Church, 600 W. 45th St., through Facebook messaging, which helped.

“On the warm days, he would sit on the steps of the rectory and everyone would come by and talk to him,” she said. “And in the summer, he came by and blessed houses so he could talk to us from the stairs. That definitely helped.”

Being on the frontlines of the pandemic has raised Germscheid’s awareness of the importance of being kind to one another.

“I think that this is something [what took place in the hospitals] that the general public will never understand,” she said. “I get that. You can’t expect them to understand. I just wish everybody would be more respectful of each other and each others’ point of view. Just respect each other.”

Christine Sorensen and Father Raphael Makori, chaplains at OSF Little Company of Mary, have also served on the frontlines during the pandemic.

In the ER setting, they are the connection between the nurses and doctors and the families. Now they are back to visiting patients in their rooms, but for many months they communicated over the phone with patients and had to reinvent how they did things.

“Since the pandemic, it’s been an adjustment to the way I minister,” Sorensen said. “I’m used to holding people’s hands in times of crisis. I’m used to giving a comforting hug because people are trembling. Well, that’s been removed from us.”

For Makori, who is from Tanzania, not being able to provide the sacraments because he was not allowed in patient rooms was difficult.

“The patients would like to see the chaplains physically,” he said. “It was a challenge because we were limited. People are social beings. They like to interact, but during the time of pandemic there was not interaction. You had to keep your distance.”

Pastoral care is all about interaction, he said.

“But that does not mean I put on my mask and hide,” Makori said. “It was a challenge but that challenge was at least taken care of.”

“During this time of pandemic, I have realized spiritual care is much more needed than any time ever,” he said. “At this time, most of the patients, they feel distressed. They feel neglected. They are not at peace. They don’t feel they are being shown love even from their own relatives and families.”

That makes the ministry of chaplains to provide hope extremely important, he said.

The pandemic is also a time when Christians need to live the Gospel even more.

“If you preach to love people, this is the time to do it,” Makori said. “At this time, the desire to see God is very high.”

Providing pastoral care to the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff also became more important during the pandemic.

“We have young nurses here and they are in the rooms of patients, they need some words of encouragement, they need some support from chaplains,” Makori said. “As chaplains we have to make sure we provide some words of encouragement so they can take courage and minister to those who are sick.”

Chaplains do not proselytize patients, families and staff, Sorensen noted, but go in with open hearts to care for each individual.

When she asks how people are doing, whether it be patients, family or staff, she often hears “I’m fine,” but that doesn’t deter her. She uses it as a starting point of conversation. What makes them fine? How are they fine?

It is sometimes difficult to get hospital staff members to unburden themselves because they think the chaplains will go and tell their supervisor, but that’s not the case, she said.

“People who confide in us, we keep that to ourselves. We don’t share that with anybody,” Sorensen said. “I see a lot of exhausted people — nurses, doctors, family members, patients. There’s different levels of the stress that is out there.”

Throughout the pandemic, faith has helped her through.

“If I did not have the faith that I have in God, I would not be sitting here right now,” Sorensen said. “What we see on a regular basis — whether anyone else knows that we’re around because they are busy — we see the sadness. … I always know that I have God with me.”


  • catholic hospitals
  • little company of mary hospital
  • covid-19

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