ALBANY, Ga. (AP) — The doctors and nurses gathered at the door asked if he was OK when he walked out of the room, and this time Chaplain Will Runyon shook his head “no.”
He had just finished the latest of his “goodbye visits,” where he carries an iPad into hospital rooms so families can watch their loved ones take their last breath. He’d suited up in a gown and mask, a blister forming on the bridge of his nose from wearing one day after day.
He stepped into a small office, and wept.
“There’s so much death right now, it piles up on you, it feels heavy,” Runyon said. He can feel it in his back, in his feet, like he's dragging something invisible behind him. “It’s happening so often, over and over, everyday."
Runyon is the chaplain at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Georgia, where the death rate is among the worst in the country. They used to have two dozen volunteers, but when the virus took hold, the hospital suspended them. So this fell to Runyon. The hospital has seen more than 70 deaths, and he’s helped families through most of them.
He considers himself a sponge, there to hold the iPad and soak up the grief. About two weeks into the ordeal, he stopped sleeping. He would jolt awake in the middle of the night.
“The day replayed in my mind, over and over and over, and the days before,” he said. “It was just adding up, piling up.”
His doctor prescribed sleeping medication, and now he makes it through most nights. When he goes 乐乐棋牌, he rides bikes with his three children to try to be normal. Sometimes he goes fishing.
He’s watched on the news as angry protesters storm state capitols demanding an end to restrictions designed to contain the virus.
“I wish people could come into the hospital and see what we see everyday,” he said. “I wish they could hold the iPad or hold the patient’s hand while they’re dying.”
One man recovered, and when he woke up, Runyon had to call in his family, so they could break the news that his wife died days earlier. Some of the patients are on ventilators for weeks, and he gets to know their families. Some have begged to be allowed in for one last hug but he has to say no.
He got to know the daughters of a dying man, and they recently decided it was time to let him go.
They dialed into the video call. He described the room, the tubes, the machines, then he walked them in. He asked if they wanted to watch as they pulled the tube from his lungs. At first they weren’t sure and stared in stunned silence. He let the silence sink in. He’s always found it’s a powerful tool.
They said they wanted to stay on the line.
Runyon thinks of himself a narrator, there to explain what the doctors are doing, so the family is not too shocked or scared.
The family could see that the nurse was holding his hand with one of hers, and rubbing his head with the other, as he passed away.
“That is the highest calling we have as chaplains right now," he said, “to make sure people are not alone.”
One of the family members had a small child, who asked him, “are you crying?”
Runyon said that, yes, he was.