By Andrew Moreton
Most frontline workers probably react to the title (front line worker) the same way I do – by imagining someone else. The GP pictures the ED doctor or nurse, the ED worker pictures the ICU doctor, the ICU worker imagines the paramedic & so on. I suppose I can claim the title because we have continued to work with people throughout this pandemic whether it be face to face in full PPE gear or over the phone or via some version of telehealth. The difference for general practice is we’re working with our patients whom we often have known for many years and probably journeyed with them through difficult chapters in their lives as well as mundane medical care.
The pandemic has shaken people – turned their lives upside down and unsettled them and their families in new and deeper ways. I have shared the pain of my patients who are teachers or police, office workers or simply parents or grandparents. Their work situations have become incredibly complex and rapidly changeable often along with suddenly overseeing home-schooling their children while not being able to see their extended family. One of the ‘fathers’ of general practice (who happens to be a woman) says of our work as GP’s that people “shelter with us for a time”. That has certainly been true of the last 18 months or so. Our patients are overwhelmed on so many fronts and they come to us for clarity, for perspective, guidance and for comfort.
As a Christian doctor I am called and equipped by God to be a channel of all those things, even if COVID-19 has sharply increased the volume and intensity of the need. As a shepherd of our little flock (elder at Dubbo Church of Christ) the same applies. For both roles I am required to go deeper in my connection with the One who sustains & recreates me daily. I find myself going back to old devotional favourites as well as finding new guides who help me keep Jesus clear & strong at the centre of everything.
In March last year I shared from Martin Luther’s open letter written to believers in 1527 trying to help them find Godly principles to respond to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. He encouraged Christian ministers and businessmen to hold their posts and not to flee but urged everyone to take precautions and not be like those who,
“disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that … if God wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him.”
Our practice has been vaccinating from the earliest possible time – calling in extra staff and working weekends to try and protect our community which has become one of the most affected by COVID-19. Crisis meetings to respond to new (often overnight) changes to create new policy or practice steal any margin we may have had & threaten to stretch our resilience past its breaking point.
In response one of our doctors had the idea of a practice prayer & share time together & a large number attended to pray, share verses & encourage each other in this difficult time. I shared the poem “Be like the Bird1” by Victor Hugo & pointed out that it comes as part of a larger story & is spoken in response to his friend’s fear that:
“everything breaks under my hand, everything trembles under my feet, everything I lean on collapses”
Hugo, while not an avid fan of the organised church in his time, had a powerful grasp of grace which permeates his works (Les Misérables & the Hunchback of Notre Dame) and I believe the wings he refers to are not our own but those given by grace. I went on to talk about Olympic silver medallist Nicola McDermott who so eloquently testified how her faith has allowed her to soar despite great adversity. I finished with the passage in Hebrews 12 about God shaking things to leave the “unshakeable” standing strong. Eugene Peterson’s The Message says it powerfully:
“The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.”
Pray that those who work on the frontline & have this unshakeable Kingdom will live in its resources and others will be drawn into that Kingdom.