By Dr. Gary Keepes
It is an astounding thought that something as small as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has affected every single life on planet earth in some way over the past year. Allow me to share a story about how it has affected my small patch of the world. I am a family physician in a small town in Southern Indiana whose practice ranges from newborns to the elderly and everything in between. I am also the medical director of a local nursing home.
As cases of COVID-19 began to be reported in the U.S. in March, our small community tried to adjust to this new reality. Most people wore masks and tried to socially distance. Our high school went to online learning, and the spring sports were cancelled (causing a disappointing end to my daughter’s senior year of high school). Our county went without a case of COVID-19 for a long time, perhaps giving us a false sense of security. We made it through the first wave of the virus in relatively good shape. However, when the virus picked up steam during a second wave in September, our small community began to experience its share of suffering.
In the nursing home, we began to test employees and residents for the virus in the hope that we might catch it early if it somehow was able to make it into the home. We had already been wearing masks and washing our hands after each patient encounter. Earlier in the year, we had stopped family visits. Although necessary, this caused many of our nursing home residents to feel isolated and separated from their families and friends.
I can still remember the day when I received the call that we had an employee test positive. Our greatest fear had now become reality. The virus was in the nursing home. The nightmare only got worse when we received positive results on nursing home residents. More employees tested positive and needed to quarantine, leaving our staffing at perilously difficult levels. Red units were created where residents who tested positive were kept in isolation. Yellow units housed residents who were exposed but had yet to test positive. Residents who tested negative were kept in green units. To our dismay, the virus kept spreading despite our best efforts. In total, 45 residents developed COVID-19 with 15 of those passing away because of the illness. Over 40 employees contracted the virus. We even lost one of our beloved staff and her husband to the virus. The month of September truly felt like we were living through a nightmare.
How did we make it through this difficult time? There are so many stories of strong faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ exhibited by our staff, residents and our resident's families. I hope to explore this more in future articles. I think it boils down to a strong faith in the Providence of God. The psalmist says that, “Long have I known that your will is established forever” (Psalm 119: 152). We have faith in an all-powerful, all knowing, all loving God who holds each one of us in the palm of his hand. And that, my friends, is what gives us hope that no matter what this virus does, we can rest assured that it is under God’s control and will work itself out for the Glory of God.
Dr. Keepes is a family physician in Petersburg, husband to Jill and father of 4 wonderful young adults. He also is in the Diocese of Evansville diaconate program.