Doctor balances faith, work in coronavirus hotspot

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Gabriela Bambrick-Santoyo is an Internal Medicine physician. She was born and raised in Mexico City and has been an active and committed member of the Focolare community since 1987. She currently works as an Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine department in a hospital in northern New Jersey, currently a hotspot in the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Here is an excerpt of the interview made by

Gabriela, can you say something about how your Catholic faith and Focolare spirituality informs your calling to a be a physician?
My calling as a Catholic and part of the Focolare movement and my vocation as a physician are inseparable. I was born Catholic and I found the Focolare movement when I was about eighteen. This encounter changed my life because it was the first time, I was pushed to concretely live the gospel of “love your neighbor as yourself.” This profoundly changed me and has been what has guided my actions, both as a person and as a physician.

What has it been like to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in a hotspot in New Jersey?
It has put my faith to fiery tests. Especially the fear of death. It becomes a very real possibility when you see so much death around you. Once you say yes to the calling that we all have as Christians to lay our lives down for others the graces come pouring in and out of you! They really do!

I also had to ask myself what it meant to “love others as yourself” in this COVID pandemic. When I first started seeing patients, I was full of fear. I wanted to go in quickly…and leave the room as quickly as possible.  Then a twist: my daughter, a healthy 18-year-old, was hospitalized with COVID.

During the evenings, she would call me crying from her hospital room saying “Mom, I have lost all my dignity. I need to go to the bathroom, and they won’t let me out. They don’t want to come in and keep pushing me back into my room and at some point I thought I was going to have to go to the bathroom on the floor.” That just crushed me, Charlie, and it made me wonder if I was doing something similar to my patients. At that point I resolved to change to fully give my life to my patients, to pour out more mercy and never let them feel abandoned.

It must be so hard to deal with death on the level you’ve had to see it during the last few weeks. It is so difficult for the rest of us to even imagine it.
That’s true, but at times there are graces too. One of my patients was a very sick 91-year-old that essentially knew she was going to die from COVID-19 and was at peace about it. My act of mercy consisted in being there in the last moments of her life. In spending time not only with my patient but also with her family over the phone. I will never forget when I told her that her family loved her very much and that they were at peace and they know you are ready and she just squeezed my hand. That is mercy.

I had another patient with whom I had what I call “the double whammy” situation. Besides being a COVID patient, he was very aggressive, not completely stable and stated he would punch me if I did not do X or Y.  It took two or three moments to remind myself that this person is also a child of God and that I needed to look on him with patience, love and mercy. Once he saw this in my eyes his anger began to evaporate. On his way to being admitted to a different ward, he turned to me, smiled and said, “You and [nurse X] have been the only ones that have taken the time to explain things to me.”

What difference does your robust prayer life and theological commitments make for how you practice medicine under these circumstances?

Prayer has been a central pillar of my life and has allow me to get through this crisis. It is in prayer that I find peace and solace.  It is in prayer that I find myself in God.

Lastly, I participate in weekly meetings (zoom meetings) with my Focolare community.  All those things together are the armor I count on to live through this crisis.

Here you read the full interview:

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