by Fr. Dennis Gonzales
This morning, I received a call from our local hospital, asking if I could administer the “last rites” (he meant the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick) to a dying patient. He had the telltale signs of COVID and was in a COVID-isolated unit. The hospital allows a priestly visit, but exposure is restricted only to administering the Sacrament of the Sick to a dying patient.
I had a conversation with the staff in charge of the infection control before I went into the patient’s room. She explained to me the protocols and helped me figure out how to observe appropriate measures, since the Anointing involves the laying on of hands on the head of the patient, anointing the forehead and hands with oil. Our regular stock of the blessed oil of the sick should not enter a patient’s room. Before going to the hospital, I soaked a cotton ball with the oil and put it in a small zip lock container. I observed the proper epidemiological and liturgical disposal after its use.
The isolation room was divided into quarters. There was an ante-room where we had to change our outside clothing to hospital scrubs. With the scrubs on, I proceeded to another room where I was fitted with the proper PPE.
I saw doctors and nurses in the ICU rendering specialized care to patients who were mostly in their respirators. The environment was quiet, but not tense. The clinical interaction was calm and composed. They appreciated my presence, and some asked for my prayers before I headed to the patient’s room. It was indeed a fruitful and meaningful visit. I had not only extended pastoral ministry to the patient and his family members, but to the staff as well. They acknowledged that our support and prayers in this difficult time are their sources of strength and comfort. Let us pray and support our healthcare workers.