Will Runyon ’02 Helping Others Find Hope in Difficult Times
Submitted on April 6, 2020
The recent outbreak of Covid-19 has proven difficult for all, but, while the disease has proven devastating and incredibly worrying for all of us, it has shined a light on so many local heroes who continue to work hard in the fight against this disease. Health care workers, first responders, grocery store workers, and so many other essential employees have worked diligently to be a beacon of hope during tough times.
Will Runyon ’02 is one Georgetown College alumnus who has seen his work significantly affected by Covid-19. The Director of Chaplain Services at Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany, Georgia, Will has had to adjust to new protocols, while also guiding so many spiritually during difficult times. Of course, his day to day work has taken on a completely new look.
“Due to the strains on the supply of personal protective equipment, I’m currently only visiting patients who request a chaplain visit,” said Will. “During normal times, we try to visit each patient who is admitted to the hospital. Now, our hospital has become almost entirely dedicated to caring for patients infected with COVID-19. To make a visit to these patients, we have to wear protective gowns, head caps, goggles, and an n-95 respirator, a surgical mask over that n-95 so we can reuse it, gloves, and shoe covers.”
According to Will, these new protocols can make it difficult to accomplish one of his ultimate goals when visiting people, which is to bring a non-anxious presence in the midst of tragedy. “Now, we’re entering the room under layers of barriers designed to protect both us and the patients,” he said. “But the symbolic meaning of all of these barriers affects the ways in which we connect with patients and provide comfort. I’ve said that the hardest part of this entire experience is the feeling of isolation that I feel, and especially my patients and their families feel and experience. It is true that these people are isolated due to this disease. They’re alone in their hospital rooms while their families, largely, are unable to visit. So chaplains step into this space to try to combat their physical, emotional and spiritual isolation.”
Will sees his current responsibility as finding the best and safest ways to provide comfort and spiritual relief during incredibly difficult times. He has had to get creative and technological, utilizing numerous skills in order to help provide the best care possible. “My calling in this time, right now, is to not let anyone be alone. Especially near the end of life, we need connection, another human being to be near. I’m blessed to be able to help families be “near” each other from across the country.
“Last week, I was able to facilitate about 15 family members from Texas, to Alabama to Georgia and South Carolina meet virtually and visit with their grandmother before she died. She had made herself a DNR and was still able to talk and visit with her family before comfort measures and palliative care took over her care. She died peacefully about an hour and a half later.”
While surrounded by loss and tragedy during these difficult times, Will has found hope. “I’ve been able to see God through the people I work with: the doctors, nurses, EVS, administrators, everyone at Phoebe has rallied around each other to provide support, encouragement, cry together, and celebrate the bright moments during the past month. Hope is where you see the helpers. I always remember the Fred Rogers quote, ‘Look for the helpers.’ And this truly has been an experience that we’ve never had before, and we still don’t know how or when this will end. But we’ve managed to build the #phoebefamily even stronger through this adversity.”
During the difficult days, he has also found himself thinking back to his time at Georgetown College, specifically the beloved Doc Birdwhistell. He said, “Many of us who knew and were loved by Doc Birdwhistell have adopted the mantra “Shine On.” This phrase has brought me so much comfort over the years since his death, and it continues today.”