Antonine Sisters Congregation- Lebanon, Our experience with COVID-19 – March 2020 – February 2021
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25: 40)
The Home of Mercy (Dar El Rahme), that belongs to the Antonine Sisters Congregtion – Lebanon, is home to 350 elderly men and women, physically and/or mentally disabled, most of whom don’t have a family to look after and Dar El Rahme is their home away from home. In addition, 30 elderly sisters of our Congregation are living there too.
Since the outbreak of the corona virus in Lebanon in March 2020, we took high measures of prevention, and we trained our staff to stand up for any situation. But, unfortunately, in November 2020 we had our first Covid-19 cases among residents and sisters.
At the end of December 2020 we got a big outbreak of the virus. 90% of the Sisters tested positive at different times, as well as residents and employees and we had a total of 31 deaths including 3 elderly sisters. It was a sudden catastrophe for us!
We faced many challenges fighting against Coronavirus. Because of the shortage of ICU beds in hospitals, we had to treat the cases locally as best as we could, by providing oxygen concentrators, IV lines, aerosols and medicines. We needed oximeters, nebulizers, infrared thermometers as well as personal protective equipment, sanitary and cleaning materials.
Most of the staff (sisters, doctors, nurses and employees) were affected themselves. Beside taking care of their health, and containing the spread of the virus, we had to deal with the anxiety, fear of death and personnel burnout.
We were unable to have the religious services and restriction measures were enforced in aspects of funeral services with inability to accompany the deceased as we usually do. Despite these measures, we found a spiritual alternative by playing recorded hymns in the rooms of sisters and coronavirus patients, some of the asymptomatic positive tested sisters visited the patients in their rooms to comfort them and be at their side, phone and video calls were received from sisters in other convents, in Lebanon and from outside Lebanon, and some family members were contacted on a daily basis to support the patients and strengthen them.
But we also lived many positive experiences, such as the dedicated personnel (sisters, nurses, doctors, employees, volunteers…) who worked long hours even when they have tested positive themselves, the priest who took the risk to give ointment to dying persons, the help we got from different organizations from outside Lebanon: WHO, UISG, Leaders of Change through the Antonine Sisters in Australia, and the Antonine Sisters in U.S.A.
This tough experience will always be remembered for it taught us how fragile our human condition is and how resilient we can be if we work together and rely on God’s help through the help of each other. It also showed that health and social care homes are a warm place for people with high support needs, especially for those who have no family and no home, because even though the family is the most suitable place to live in, it doesn’t always have the skills and resources to look after their needs.
February 23, 2021
Sr. Jinane Farah