Prepare for the worst; hope for the best.

Dr. Raquel Farias and her husband, Dr. Jose Salazar, and their children in a photo taken Easter Sunday. Both are on the front lines of the healthcare crisis, working at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. (Submitted photo)

That’s what Dcn. Greg Price did every day of his 32-year career in the Chicago Police Department, where he served stints on both the SWAT Team and Tactical Team. He suited up, made sure he carried protective equipment — at the time, that meant two guns, a bulletproof vest and a nightstick — and went to do the job he signed up for.

“You’re called to a job that has a certain amount of risk,” said Dcn. Price. “You do your job, and you’re careful, and you hope for the best.”

It’s a philosophy he finds himself embracing again now that he is an ordained permanent deacon ministering to hospice patients for Aurora Health Care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dcn. Price and thousands of other healthcare workers throughout southeastern Wisconsin do not have the luxury of social distancing — their jobs demand that they put themselves at risk each day.

So once again, he suits up, makes sure he has his protective equipment (this time, it’s a mask and gloves) and heads to work.

“You’re called to this, just like a doctor or a nurse,” said Dcn. Price, who serves St. Peter the Apostle Parish in East Troy. “You do the best you can with it.”

As Dr. Raquel Farias completes the final weeks of her maternity leave and prepares to return to work at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin as a pediatric neurologist, she said she finds herself having to focus on the things she can control — “Which, as it turns out, is very little.”

“I can control my actions and the actions of my immediate family, but I can’t control a pandemic,” said Dr. Farias, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Visitation in Elm Grove whose husband, Jose H. Salazar, is a pediatric surgery fellow at CHW. The parents of four young children, they do not have family in the Milwaukee area, and both are understandably concerned about what would happen if they got sick.

“I told my husband, ‘Perhaps we should not think of ourselves as the drivers right now — we should just be in the passenger seat, take the scenic route and trust in God’s plans,’” she said. “Because they’re always the perfect plans.”

Dr. Lauren Weasler, a family medicine physician finishing up her last few months of residency in a downtown Milwaukee hospital, said that she considers this pandemic to be a pivotal moment, both in her own career and in the careers of her fellow healthcare workers.

For Dr. Weasler, practicing good medicine and being a good Catholic physician are two different things; the former requires scientific proficiency and technical expertise, while the latter demands that a doctor embrace and grow in the essential virtues like courage and altruism that will make him or her into the healer a patient really needs.

This, said Dr. Weasler, is a time for good physicians.

“I think this time is a reminder of how important it is to uphold the oath that we all committed to once we graduated from medical school; to recognize a patient’s vulnerability, profess to help, and be faithful to that promise,” said Dr. Weasler.

For Geralyn Breunig, a nurse at Froedtert West Bend Hospital and the mother of five children under the age of 8, that choice was one that could only be made with the support of her faith.

In the first days of the pandemic, Breunig, a parishioner at Holy Angels Parish in West Bend, said she experienced overwhelming fear and anxiety at having to put herself — and thereby, her young family — right on the front lines of an unprecedented public health crisis.

“To be honest, I was reading too much. I was listening to too much news,” she said. “And then I just realized, Mary was not planning on being the Mother of God. She was scared and overwhelmed, but she said yes. We weren’t planning on being part of a pandemic, but here we are. And we’re scared and overwhelmed. But we can let this be our Fiat.”

Dcn. Price has been helping the dying to confront their mortality for the past 19 years. He sees patients throughout Kenosha and Racine counties, usually visiting them at their homes, at hospitals or at long-term care facilities.

“We try to create a sacred space where people can look at their lives and figure out what this all means,” he said.

Since the pandemic, most of his patients have requested telephone visits to maintain social distancing, though he will see them wherever they wish in compliance with the constantly changing protocols of various health institutions. He hasn’t seen any patients yet that are confirmed positive for COVID-19, but the possibility exists that he will in the future. And no matter what his patients’ illness, the pandemic has affected how they deal with the end of their lives.

One of his services is to assist with the planning of funerals, which currently must be restricted to groups of 10 or less, including the presider. He recently did a graveside ceremony that consisted of only a funeral director and the pallbearers; everyone else had to stay in their cars.

“It’s difficult because some families feel that they haven’t been able to achieve closure,” he said. “That’s another area of ministry that we have to take on — helping them deal with this additional burden as they lay their loved ones to rest. The bereavement process has been changed for them.”

To a certain extent, the spectre of COVID-19 is not any more threatening than the scenarios Dr. Farias’ young patients and their parents face every day. The majority of her patients are facing a neurological emergency during their stay in pediatric ICU.

It is the accidents of the pandemic — the safety measures that need to be taken, the protocols that have to be followed — that add yet another dimension of difficulty to an already fraught health crisis.

She worries that, because of the personal protective equipment (PPE) she will have to wear and the precautions she will need to observe, her ability to connect with and comfort the families she serves might be hindered.

“When you have your face uncovered, you can show emotion,” she said. “And now, that’s just so difficult in terms of how we’re going to be able to connect with families. Even the human touch of hugging a parent who is worried, or shaking the hand of a worried grandparent. I’m sure we will be able to, but it’s going to take a little bit of getting used to.”

She said she has confidence that she will be leaning heavily on her faith — something that has always informed her identity as a healthcare provider.

“I don’t know how I could do my job, with the tragedy that I see, without having a strong faith,” she said. “It’s definitely what God wants me to do and it’s also something God helps me to do, especially as I’m having serious and sad conversations with multiple parents over and over.”

Reflecting on her interactions with COVID-positive patients in the light of her own baptismal call, Breunig said she actually considers herself lucky. “I get to visit, and in a way heal, the sick. I get to comfort the afflicted,” she said. “I get to live out my faith through my job, directly and indirectly.”

It’s a luxury denied to their family members and even their pastors. “Priests are not allowed to come in and administer the sacraments — but I can pray with them,” she said. “I truly believe that I was meant to be a nurse, right here and right now in little old West Bend, Wisconsin, during COVID. I have such a sense of peace, even though I’m scared and there is a lot of unknown.”

Witnessing the isolation of the patients, said Dr. Weasler, is definitely the hardest part of the job. It requires what she calls “the art of practicing medicine” — comforting and consoling, especially in the instances when physical healing isn’t possible.

“That’s what we’re learning to do well right now,” she said. “Our physical presence carries far more weight than our words, as physicians, in those situations.”

Dr. Farias urged those who wish to show appreciation to front-line workers to pray and to be mindful of their own interactions with a system that, in a pandemic scenario, is in danger of being overtaxed.

“As healthcare providers, we care deeply for the health of society; so we are doing our best, putting our lives on the line to best serve you. That’s just who we are; that’s always going to be who we are. Regardless of who is our patient, we’re always going to try to take care of you,” she said. “So try to take care of yourselves, as well. Stay home and socially distance. It may not feel like we are not doing anything … but in reality, we are doing so much.”