Sister Lucia Corradin is the Managing Nursing Director and a member of the Executive Committee of Caritas Baby Hospital (C.B.H.) in Bethlehem – the town in which the first positive coronavirus cases in Palestine were confirmed in the beginning of March. The Sister of the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua is originally from Vicenza, Italy.
When the first positive coronavirus cases were confirmed in Bethlehem on 5 March, the Infection Control Director and Coordinator of Caritas Baby Hospital (C.B.H.) — together with the Ward Managers and pediatricians — prepared a protocol on how to handle the crisis with regard to the staff as well as to suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases. We trained our staff, especially those working on the frontline, such as doctors and nurses. We spread videos from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) to the doctors and nurses on how to wear and remove the personal protective equipment. From mid-March on, C.B.H. started taking further measures: We placed, for instance, a “waiting nurse” at the entrance of C.B.H. She measures the temperature of any person coming to the hospital and interviews them. The nurse distributes the sick children depending on whether they display respiratory problems or not. In addition, we only allow one companion with each child. C.B.H. also included rules on how to handle a potential COVID-19 case at the hospital: If one of our doctors suspects that a child has the virus, it is transferred to the “Suspected Cases Unit.”
I am proud of how much our staff has grown during the last few weeks and how they handled the situation. There was a sense of panic among the staff and the clients in the 10 days that followed the confirmation of the first positive cases. Then people realized that, as compared to the rest of the world, there are not so many cases here in Bethlehem. People thus became more relaxed and clients at C.B.H. appreciated the measures we had taken.
In some ways, we have been fortunate. The pandemic did not affect us in the same way as it affected Europe. The virus was not as aggressive here and the people followed the instructions strictly. Therefore, the cases stayed at a minimum. We did not have thousands of people dying in the Intensive Care Unit.
However, Bethlehem has been strongly affected economically by the consequences of the pandemic. The economic situation of the Palestinian population was already difficult before the pandemic; the money was just enough for the daily shopping. Now the poor have become very poor. Bethlehem lives largely from tourism and tourism is very much affected by the crisis. In addition, we do not know how long it will last.
The church also had to follow the emergency guidelines. They streamed festivities and prayers online. The priests and parishes are trying to raise funds, and community committees then hand out the church’s support to the poorest people. In this way, the church in Bethlehem supports the town’s social cases.
Throughout all this, faith has been important. I believe Jesus is here with me. He already shared his life and will continue doing so in this situation. I am not alone. God gives me strength to work towards him, to listen and think in this situation with his eyes and ears. It is an emergency, many people are dying and suffering, but it is not only that. I want to believe that God is working inside the sick and the suffering, to console them and to ease their pain.
To keep the gospel alive in people’s hearts, I believe that the way we give hope when dealing with the people — by listening to them, supporting them, praying for them and calling them — can be more important than the work we do. I show my solidarity with my concrete prayer. We, the sisters at C.B.H., also share our reflections on the world and on God with others whenever there is something engaging our faith.
Those who have faith, I’ve discovered, are acting differently. They say “let us have hope, let us stay positive.” I have experienced that faith plays a particular role for those who believe in God and suffer from the current situation.
I have also observed that the religious leaders are trying to engage each other. On Easter, for example, the Custos met a Muslim authority and they greeted each other. This is a sign of solidarity, an exchange of hope. They listen to each other’s situation. I describe a situation linked to the religious leadership, but religious channels communicated this meeting and everybody could see it.
People are trying to search for a solution. Those who are working in hotels or restaurants might still suffer for a long time. There are no guests, no tourism. The economic situation depends on the individual employment of the people. Now we are gradually opening up again. We might go back to some kind of normal, but there will be a long drought for tourism – which constitutes about 80 percent of Bethlehem’s income. People now try to support each other — for example, one person may still work and support the rest of the family — but every family cuts down and tries to survive.
Personally, in the beginning, I thought reports were exaggerating the situation Then, after a week, things seemed to get worse and worse in the world. I thought that Bethlehem was a safe place compared to the rest of the world. After some time, I got more anxious. How long will this go on? I then adopted the thinking that this is like a war. The virus is the enemy. Let us handle it like a war. It ends when it ends. To be precise: In the world, it was like a war, not exactly in Bethlehem. I thought of friends, colleagues and church members in other countries. I was worried for them. I experienced different emotions. In the hospital, I was not afraid of the virus. I protected others and myself. In my position at C.B.H., I was involved in the handling of the virus. We took the decisions needed to survive and to guarantee safety.
Coping mechanisms that I had developed involved cooking, listening to music, exercising and reading books at home. I tried not to think of the crisis all of the time, but to think of other things. I found someone to talk to and listened to my staff in return. Recently, I have also started a training in spiritual first aid. I follow a formative activity. I want to learn how to spiritually support people having to deal with disaster.
Another personal experience that I can share is related to my father. He needed hospitalization during the coronavirus crisis in Italy. For the last 15 years, he has lived with Parkinson’s disease and he has a brain tumor. My mother and my brother have handled the situation at home and I do what I can whenever I am in Italy.
But during the coronavirus crisis, he suffered heart failure in the night and was admitted to the hospital. However, this time, nobody was allowed to be with him at the hospital. My father was alone and this hurt me a lot. Therefore, I called my colleagues in the hospital where he was admitted and asked if somebody could say hello to him. One time I had a video chat with my father. That was a very hard moment for me and I prayed for us.
But on 11 May, my father was finally able to come home.