Healthcare providers share how their Pagan practices nurture them through the pandemic

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MIAMI – “When I am melting down because I can’t see my grandkids or feeling useless and unimportant” or ask “Where do I fit in now and how important was I really?” Kim Bauerle tells herself “not that important and is that ok…yes, it is”. She’s a Licensed Massage therapist, Clinical Herbalist, Self-care coach teaching Emotional Freedom Technique, Meditation and Aromatherapy, and energy healing in the Pittsburgh area.

Bauerle says she will walk with her beliefs through the pandemic, learning from it, and learning from nature.

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Like other healthcare workers, she’s on the frontlines experiencing the full brunt of the economic, caregiving, and professional challenges brought on by COVID-19. She’s currently unemployed.

“I have been broken down a few times, physically & emotionally. My role as a caregiver had been put to the test,” Bauerle said.

She added whether she can even care for herself, the strain is real and intense. She can’t see her grandkids and she can’t do her work, but she says that, even though she doesn’t consider herself a “true Pagan”, her spiritual practice helps her “stay grounded, recovered, full and loving life even when I can’t see past my own tears and fears.”

The pandemic’s effect on healthcare workers is insidious. Nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, EMTs, phlebotomists, and all others across the spectrum of health service providers are at a significantly increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Their colleagues have fallen ill and they’ve heard the news of health provider deaths around the world.

They persevere nevertheless. Their delivery of service or their commitment to care isn’t the issue. It is the lack of resources like personal protective equipment, the constantly changing recommendations from political leaders, the exceptionally long hours, the uncertainty of infection, and the emotional toll of intensive caregiving and even seeing constant death. The pandemic is leaving a traumatized field of healthcare providers unseen since the early days of the HIV pandemic.

Kasha is a Wiccan HPS who works for a home health care agency in Central Florida. She’s their director of nursing and supervises a host of services for an elderly population of clients that include support nurses and physical, occupational, and speech therapists all providing in-home care.

She wishes everyone knew “knew how skilled, compassionate, and persistent my coworkers are. Leaving home every day and walking into at least half a dozen homes where you aren’t sure what you’ll find, providing care to frightened and vulnerable people, all while wrapped up in PPE and navigating a super stressed, chaotic healthcare environment- it is truly superhero work.”

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Their extraordinary work is honored today on National Nurses Day in the United States and next week on International Nurses Day, Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

But the impact of that superhero work takes a personal toll. To protect their families and loved ones, healthcare workers have resorted to extraordinary strategies. Some sleep in their garages, some have rented rooms, or are temporarily living in mostly vacant hotels. Others have a detailed decontamination strategy when they return home that robs more time from their day.

“My soul and heart ache, but only for a moment, for what we are all going through right now,” says Changing Winds, a Wiccan Seer outside of Philadelphia, She’s a family Nurse Practitioner. She used to do home wellness visits. Those days are gone.

She said that nurses–all healthcare providers–are heroes, who “just want to help others.” But that “the cost of self – safety, missed family time and milestones and putting our loved ones at risk” might end up being too high. She went on to say, “when you have to choose between yourself and your patient, it is the most difficult decision a healthcare provider must make, and 9 times out of 10 we place our patients first, even before meeting our own basic needs like eating and using the bathroom.“

Changing winds added, “Our patients do not ask us to do this and I think are saddened to learn that this happens at all, let alone regularly.”

Kasha underscores the scope of the emotional challenge. She notes that it is 360-degrees in nature: patients, colleagues, family, friends – everyone needs some support. She also adds that her service as a priestess helps her stay grounded and aid her in helping others. She notes that her Pagan skill set “has helped me stay more grounded in the center of chaos and, most significantly, to transform frustration and fear into action.”

The chaos is very real. Changing Winds says that the pandemic is truly exposing the healthcare system.

She says, “I think the general public’s eyes have been opened to the ugliness in the healthcare system. I am hopeful that this will be the much-needed catalyst for change.”

She highlights how corporate greed has undermined the caregiving desire to help others and supplanted it with profit motives, even making healthcare providers feel disposable.

She worries how the pandemic and the corporate behavior will simply mean that the cost of staying in healthcare professions will simply be too high.

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Kasha added that the frustrations are everywhere that include a lack of testing, a vocal minority who don’t believe the seriousness of the pandemic, and a disorganized public health strategy in her state that can bring more danger to her colleagues, her patients, and those in the community.

At the same time, she adds, there is more of everything related to work: more worry, more videoconferencing, more regulatory meetings, more remote monitoring, and more coordination of service delivery. “Ironically,” Kasha added, “right now, people are afraid of healthcare, which makes it difficult to provide needed services.”

Nevertheless, Changing Winds has deep hope. She sees COVID-19 transforming the world.

“I find comfort in knowing that those who are meant to see, will and that there are and will be those who, for whatever reason, are unable to see. Society has been so focused on the material things and COVID has really shaking that up.” She said “We are being forced to get to know ourselves and those around us, reconsider our priorities, look for, and BECOME the helpers and accept our vulnerabilities. That last one is a real humdinger, particularly difficult for me and something I’ve been working on for the last few years. Which has helped me to recognize that struggle in others.”

Back in Pittsburgh, Bauerle reminds herself to take time to heal.

“I have and continue to believe in the power of self-healing, I now have the time to bring those practices to myself. And to learn even more ways to be one with nature and its forces. It is clear the cleansing that is happening worldwide and individually.”

Indeed, the COVID-19 challenge is just beginning. Without evidence of COVID-19 treatments and no vaccine, public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are still warning of future waves of the pandemic which may be even worse than the current one.

Despite the grim truth and warnings, Changing Winds says that her Pagan path keeps her focused on her work and asking why this is all happening, even down to meetings.

“I know and trust that GODDESS protects and provides for me ALWAYS. I no longer fear the unknown.” She is ready for the challenge.

Kasha is also undeterred to deliver services and remain a voice for patients and colleagues. She responds with advocacy, pushing back against corporate and political forces that leave others vulnerable.

“My Work with Deity has been comforting because some days haven’t been easy.” She remains stalwart that the pandemic will end, noting that “one thing that COVID 19 has reminded me of is how responsible we are for each other.”

Changing Winds says she has only fear in this pandemic, “that like 9/11, we will unite, we will come together again, only to find ourselves divided again, exactly where we were just 8 short weeks ago.”