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'What is there to pray for?': Indiana chaplain speaks on COVID-19 in the ICU

Hospital Hallway
Posted at 11:27 AM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 22:23:13-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Rabbi Mike Harvey, a resident chaplain at IU Health, has gained attention for his tweets about what it's like inside the ICU.

He works at University Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children through his residency. Over the weekend, he posted several tweets about his experiences.

"I've held my tongue a lot when it comes to #COVID19 and the emotional strain it puts on staff, but I feel like tonight is a good night to speak on it," he wrote.

In an interview Tuesday, Harvey said: “One of the things I wanted to paint a picture of is a view inside that unit that people aren’t able to see.”

That unit is the Medical ICU at IU Health University Hospital. Many of the patients he sees are COVID-19 positive.

Immunocompromised and vaccinated or unvaccinated, Harvey said the backstory does not matter, the team is there to provide care. Harvey balances faith and science.

In a tweet, he wrote he works with the "sickest of the sick,” adding many of those patients come from other hospitals in the state.

“So what is it like walking down the halls of the pods of the ICU," he wrote. "It's cold, it's dark, and it's quiet. Why? Because these folks are all intubated, hooked up to massive amounts of equipment, machines breathing for them, and feeding them through tubes. Heavy blankets cover their bodies, or machines so big cover them and you can't even see anything but their legs. Family isn't around much."

Harvey said healthcare workers and nurses are overworked and understaffed. Some in the ICU are covering two to three patients when it's typically less.

Burnout, Harvey said, is something he sees daily and experiences himself. The team builds relationships with the families, and when a patient passes, the pain is felt throughout the floor.

“That in itself would be hard but the fact that a few hours later, that room empties and is replaced with someone else we don’t have a lot of time to process and mourn,” Harvey said Tuesday.

In the thread that went viral, he wrote the "numbers don't lie" and hospitals are "swarmed with the unvaccinated."

"They tell us to try to pray. Can you imagine," he wrote. "Sitting in my PPE gear, my N-95 pinching my face, my face shield fogging up, my gloves tight on my hands, and the unvaccinated wife who made her husband refuse vaccination, asks me to pray for him as he lays dying." "What is there to pray for? COVID is a cruel disease."

“We’re looking for that light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not quite there," Harvey said in the interview with WRTV.

He also tweeted about a conversation with a nurse. "A nurse walks by as I stand in the doorway of another patient. Their family has moved them to comfort care, DNR, there's nothing else to do. 'Was he vaccinated?' I ask. 'I've stopped asking,' she says, 'either answer makes me upset.' She's right."

Even through the darkest day, Harvey feels it is an honor to serve his patients and team members. He hopes his tweets share the “human factor” behind the virus.

“No one in the ICU expected to be there. Everyone in unexpectedly there. Do what is recommended, God forbid, so you don’t end up under my care.”

You can read his full thread of tweets below.