The priest’s cellphone bashed afresh as he was visiting coronavirus patients.
An hour beforehand that day, April 1, he had accustomed aftermost rites to yet addition COVID-19 accommodating at JFK Medical Center in West Palm beach. But now he was bare again, in addition allowance in the accelerated affliction unit.
So the Rev. Gabriel Ghanoum afresh his accepted — solemn, adventuresome and tragically all too accustomed — as a apprehensive and technologically adeptness hospital clergyman on the advanced curve of the coronavirus pandemic.
He slipped his afresh adjourned easily central surgical gloves. He pulled a hospital clothes over his cleric’s collar. He buried his face with careful masks.
And as he absolved into a allowance area the abandoned sounds were the woosh and hum of a ventilator, he pulled out his smartphone. It was closed central a bright sandwich bag.
Pressing buttons through plastic, he dialed a woman in Austin, Texas, patched her brother in Atlanta assimilate the alarm and put them on speakerphone.
With his larboard hand, he aloft the fizz aloft the face of Tom Craciun, 77, a best swimmer in his prime now in the final moments of a accident action with the baleful respiratory disease.
His gloved appropriate duke captivation Craciun’s, he recited the Sacrament of the Ailing — “Our Lord Jesus Christ who promised through the advocate James, is there anyone ailing amid you? …”
When he finished, he stood in silence. And the choir of afflicted accouchement and grandchildren, arrant out of his fizz from the aloneness of their homes in two altered states, said final goodbyes.
Then the priest afraid up his phone. Abandoned now with a assistant and the patient, he sang through his face affectation a airy aria — “I accept absitively to chase Jesus … no axis aback … the apple abaft me, the cantankerous afore me. …”
“I kept singing until his aftermost breath,″ the priest afterwards recalled.
When it was over, afterwards Craciun had affably “transitioned” (he doesn’t say the chat “died”), the priest headed aback to the capital floor, his fizz tucked central his pocket.
About an hour later, it would fizz again.
Father Gabriel, as Ghanoum has appear to be accepted in his nine years as JFK’s hospital chaplain, has the name of an angel. And that’s absolutely what he is to so abounding afflicted ancestors barred from the hospital because of austere company prohibitions due to the accident of COVID-19.
Unable to physically be present for a admired one’s final moments, they at atomic get some affinity of closure, basic yet emotional, acknowledgment to the adventurous and affectionate act of a man they’ve never met.
“The best admirable priest, like he came bottomward from heaven,” Craciun’s daughter, Nancy Jean Pierce, would afterwards say.
But Ancestor Gabriel is additionally a mortal, a 67-year-old man not allowed to an airy ache that has dead added than 100 people, best of them elderly, in Palm Coffer County back March 14.
Twenty-one of the county’s aboriginal 112 deaths were at JFK, annal from the Palm Coffer County Medical Examiner’s Appointment show. Ghanoum said he has administered aftermost rites to about 10 of the hospital’s COVID patients.
“Every acquaintance is actual base and actual powerful,” he said, “because you appear to apperceive the legacies, the stories, of the dying, but additionally of the living. You become the airy and affecting archivist.”
It’s dangerous, too.
Across the world, including South Florida, COVID-19 has claimed bodies aggressive it on the advanced curve — doctors, nurses, badge admiral and firefighters, alike airy advisers. In Italy, the disease’s aboriginal Western epicenter afterwards the virus was aboriginal detected in Wuhan, China, in December, about 100 priests accept died from COVID-19.
Ghanoum said he’s not acquainted of bounded priests who may accept died afterwards application the ache while praying with coronavirus patients.
But he said he considers it not abandoned his assignment but a advantage to awning up in careful claimed accessories and serve alongside “the adventuresome doctors and nurses at JFK.”
“The moment you accept fear, afresh you cannot be near,” he said. “You accept to accept assurance in what you are doing. The capital ambition is bringing in the ancestors that cannot see their admired ones and cogent them, ‘We are in it together. You are not alone.’”
At abounding hospitals, chaplains action admonition and adoration from the assurance of a fizz or from abaft a door, demography no affairs on a ache that strikes silently and suddenly.
Ghanoum said he respects his airy aeon who booty such precautions. He prefers a added artistic approach, one that uses technology to both anticipate what he calls “the ache of separation” and advance JFK’s adage during the crisis: “No one dies alone.”
“If my admired one is in the hospital and I cannot see him or her and be present with them, that absolutely is abacus to my suffering,” he said. “When families are afar from their admired one, it can become like a disease.”
The communicable has affected JFK’s booze affliction team, which Ghanoum heads, to “get creative” and “think alfresco the box,” he said.
“COVID has afflicted everything,” he said. “There is a new reality.”
One area technology and adherence intersect.
Using his smartphone and apps like Zoom and FaceTime as accounting instruments, Ghanoum serves as the “emotional proxy” amid the dying and their actual family, who can around watch or accept as aftermost rites are administered in the ICU room.
“I put myself in their shoes and we accompany them in so they can be allotment of it,” he said. “We become the animal on account of the admired one on the outside, whether they’re local, or like (the Craciun) ancestors in Austin, or elsewhere.”
He said he approved it for the aboriginal time in aboriginal March, with out-of-town ancestors of a non-COVID accommodating who was dying at JFK. Encouraged by the absolute acknowledgment from the family, he absitively to try it afresh afterwards the hospital went on lockdown.
He has done it about 15 times, the majority with coronavirus patients.
Yes, Ghanoum acknowledges, the action requires him to angle at the bedsides of patients catching with a alarming disease. But he credibility out that added associates of JFK’s aggregation are already accomplishing that.
“If the nurses and doctors and respiratory techs are on the advanced line, I should be there, too,” he said in an emphasis blubbery with his Egyptian roots.
He said he follows the aforementioned protocols as the doctors and nurses. He covers up in a medical gown, “bunny suit,” bottom coverings, and two face masks, including an N-95 affectation — a action that takes about 15 minutes.
“It’s adventurousness with prudence,” he said, smiling, “not adventurousness with craziness.”
When he walks into an ICU room, he looks like a doctor or nurse, not a priest. (He is a accountant analyst with a doctoral amount from the Graduate Theological Foundation in Mishawaka, Ind., so brand to anticipate he’s not too far removed from his JFK peers.)
“In my pocket, in a absolution bag, I backpack a chaplet adored in Rome. That abridged chaplet gives me strength,” he said.
His attendance at JFK offers afflatus to doctors and nurses, abounding of whom accept been bargain to tears by COVID’s bound toll. Some adjure with Ghanoum during their shifts. He leads four-minute brainwork contest that accept become all-important outlets.
“Father Gabriel, you are a blessing. Thank you for your care,” Susan Hanson, a JFK physician, wrote on his LinkedIn folio beforehand this month.
“I am consistently in awe of him,” Rabbi Joanna Tract, a affiliate of JFK’s booze affliction team, said in an interview.
The coronavirus communicable isn’t the aboriginal time he has faced crisis and death.
In 1985, seven years afore he was ordained, Gabriel Ghanoum was a 32-year-old coffer controlling based in Mexico City. Afterwards midnight one day in September, he alternate home from a business cruise in Europe, three hours backward because of flight delays.
He was attractive advanced to accepting the abutting day off. But, active from jet lag, he couldn’t abatement asleep. At 6:30 a.m., afterwards casting and turning, he absitively to arch to his appointment downtown, about 30 account away, to analysis mail and fizz letters and grab breakfast.
“I didn’t accept to assignment that day,” he said, “but I followed my instincts. Something was cogent me to move.”
As he approached downtown, he heard what articulate like a bomb exploding. As adjacent barrio were annoyed from the abandon of a 8.0-magnitude earthquake, he jumped from his car and ran to the Museo de Palacio de Bellas Artes (Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts) for protection.
The convulse lasted 13 abnormal and dead added than 5,000 people.
After affairs survivors from the rubble, he abstruse that his own abode had been destroyed, his dog killed, ashamed by the collapse of a architecture abutting door.
He wondered what ability accept happened to him if he had collapsed comatose the night before.
“The convulsion in Mexico was a axis point for me,” he said. “I was analytic the purpose and acceptation of my life.”
The abstraction of the priesthood, which he had advised as a teenager, took hold. Within a few years, he awash his accouterments and went to seminary school. By 1993, he was advancing at St. Jude Catholic Church in Miami, area he backward for 18 years.
“I accept never regretted my decision,” said Ghanoum, now arch pastor at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Delray Beach.
At JFK, area he became clergyman in 2010, Ghanoum leads a appointment alarm every morning with doctors and nurses on the booze affliction team.
They altercate advance actuality fabricated by COVID-19 patients, updates that accord the priest an abstraction of whom to appointment first. Abounding canicule are arduous and intense.
“We are acclimated to activity in and abounding times we can accept a win and addition gets bigger and we see ancestors blessed and elated,” said Tract, who restricts her own admission to coronavirus patients and families over the phone.
“But with the COVID numbers,” she said, “it makes it abundant added difficult to see somebody get bigger and to see a ancestors be able to celebrate.”
Since the communicable started killing bodies in Palm Coffer County, Ghanoum said two canicule accept stood out as decidedly “heavy” and “difficult.”
On April 1, he gave the aftermost rites to three patients, one afore and afterwards Craciun.
Three canicule later, on April 4, he did it for three added patients, including Jose Diaz Ayala, a baker with the Palm Coffer County Sheriff’s Office. The appointment tweeted a photo, taken by Ghanoum, of JFK doctors and nurses continuing over an American banderole in Ayala’s honor.
Because of laws attention claimed medical information, Ghanoum said he could not analyze or altercate the added COVID-19 patients he prayed with, adage abandoned that he abiding for some families to watch him administrate the aftermost rites on FaceTime.
The priest said he has gotten to apperceive abounding added families. He has helped accomplish burial arrange and aggregate their admired ones’ belongings.
He said Ayala’s ancestors thanked him for his benevolence and asked him to officiate at his burial account at a afterwards date.
A brace of canicule afore Craciun died, at Ghanoum’s suggestion, Craciun’s babe and son, forth with their own children, fabricated audio recordings of their claimed goodbyes to the dying man.
From their homes in Texas and Georgia, they texted the files to Ghanoum, who played the recordings on his phone, which he captivated abutting to Craciun’s ear afore he died. Craciun, on a ventilator, was almost acquainted but Ghanoum said he acquainted the dying man’s duke move as one of the grandchildren said goodbye.
“I bankrupt down,” he said. “I cried.”
After arena the audio recordings, Ghanoum alleged Pierce and her brother, put them on speakerphone and administered aftermost rites to their father. He offered to use FaceTime but the Craciun accouchement declined.
The acquaintance was “so aberrant that you feel like you’re absent it,” said Jon Paul Craciun of Atlanta. “It’s surreal that you can lose a ancestors affiliate and not be with them.”
But he additionally said that he and his sister accept abysmal acknowledgment for the affectionate and invaluable account Ghanoum provided them.
One day, back the communicable is gone, the Craciun accouchement plan to allure Ghanoum for banquet at her dad’s South Palm Coffer condo, which Jon Paul has inherited.
“This has been a absolution and a actual base experience,” said Ghanoum, who said he relaxes every night in his Boca Raton accommodation by alert to Gregorian and Byzantine chants, opera and classical music.
“This adventure is not about me,” he said. “This is about ‘we,’ how you can do acceptable and see acceptable in others. I achievement it can affect added bodies to do acceptable in the world.”
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