As Jason Denney lay alone in his pressurized hospital room, he felt a mix of emotions – loneliness, fear, and guilt.
The patient, confined at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando, had a severe case of COVID-19, and he looked like he wasn’t going to make it. A Catholic priest administered last rites for him, and he bid farewell to his family via FaceTime.
But hospital housekeeper Rosaura Quinteros urged Jason to continue the fight. She assured him that his life was in good hands – both the doctors’ and God’s. She told him God wasn’t done with him and urged him not to lose hope.
The role of people like Rosaura has become even more essential now that hospitals have imposed stringent restrictions on visitors and clergy due to the threats of the coronavirus. Many of them don’t limit their jobs to keeping rooms clean, they also try to lift the spirits of patients by being a listening ear and providing them with encouragement whenever they see them.
That’s exactly what Rosaura did for the retired Air Force colonel battling a deadly illness. She became a beacon of light in the darkest moments of his life.
“I don’t think she realized at the time what she was doing for me,” Jason told CNN. “She was saving my life.”
England-born Jason, 52, retired from the Air Force after 22 years and two deployments. He recently took a job with a defense contractor. Rosaura, on the other hand, was born in Pasaco, Guatemala. She moved to the US about 15 years ago and is married with two kids. She was working as a hotel housekeeper before she joined the Dr. Phillips staff seven months ago.
Melinda Plumley, the chaplain manager at the hospital, realized that her staff wouldn’t be able to do their usual jobs as COVID-19 patients began arriving at the facility. Holding face-to-face conversations with patients to help them process their emotions became impossible due to fears of infection.
As an alternative, Melinda employed the help of housekeepers and other staff members who visit patients’ rooms daily.
“We put together some material of easy, open-ended questions for staff to get the patient talking,” she said. “And now we have patients who say that if it weren’t for the woman who cleans my room, I’m not sure I would have made it.”
During the first few days, all that Jason and Rosaura talked about was the weather – simple conversations to distract him from what he’s feeling. Jason, who didn’t want to be sedated or intubated, said he was experiencing indescribable pain and just focused on surviving each day.
“It was really nice to talk about something other than my illness,” he said. “I was sick and tired of hearing about what bad shape I was in.”
Jason appreciated the time he spent chatting with Rosaura so much that he began looking forward to her short visits every morning while she cleaned his room. Jason noted that she wasn’t afraid of being close to him.
After a few days, they began talking about their families and their faith. Jason has three children, including a 16-year-old son who also contracted the virus. The dad feels very guilty about that, thinking he was the reason his child is sick.
Rosaura noticed that fear and guilt from the moment she met him.
“I felt bad for him,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure that he knew he was not alone.”
Though English is not her first language, Jason and Rosaura formed a bond. She said that when a patient is treated with compassion and love, language is not a barrier. For six days, she was there to comfort Jason and give him assurance.
Besides donning her protective gear, Rosaura relies on another higher source of protection – her Catholic faith. Though she’s equipped with the right skills to do her job, she mostly puts her faith in God. Jason is also Catholic, and Rosaura would talk to him about Jesus and the Lord’s healing power.
These words sustained him during his confinement and kept him fighting. A few days after he was released, he asked the hospital for Rosaura’s number and sent her a message thanking her. He hopes to meet her family and have dinner with them one day.
“I would love just to see her again and say thank you,” he said. “People don’t realize that in their brief engagements with other people, the words you say matter. And in the situation I was in, they really matter.”
Indeed, kindness and compassion can go a long way. They’re such powerful forces, that they were able to save this man’s life!