Just the other day, I received a message from the brother of a patient I cared for a couple of years ago. He identified himself as my patient’s brother, and said that he was thinking of all our ICU team during this pandemic. He wanted us to know he cared about the team that cared for his brother.
Immediately, I knew who this was. My patient had suffered a very bad stroke, he was not going to survive off of the ventilator, and the family had agreed to donate whatever organs they could. My patient was young, close to my age. His family loved small air planes. I remember the city they lived in, and they shared some stories with me about the airplane museum. I remembered my patient’s brother and sister-in-law, and could still see their faces. They now have contact with the person who received a second chance at life when they were the recipient of my patient’s kidneys. I remember.
I also received two letters today. They were written almost a year ago, but I remember very clearly who wrote them. There were two Jewish sisters who lost their mother. Their father shared some Holocaust history with me, and sent me home with literature that I still cherish. I got to know the members of their family quite well during the course of their mother’s hospitalization, and learned quite a bit from their father. They were a lovely family I enjoyed spending my day with as I cared for their mother.
The second letter was from a woman about my age, whose mother died of the same type of cancer my father died from. I remember sharing with her what it was like during the days of losing my Dad. We shared a lot in common, and talked quite a bit. When you’re in the same season of life as your patient’s family member, and you take the time to listen, you can really have an impact and help make a painful time a little less difficult. It’s my favorite part of being a nurse, really.
I love people.
But nursing has changed in the past 30 days. We are fighting the war on this evil COVID virus.
I no longer know if my patient is a veteran, because if I did, I’d put the US Flag in the window of their room like we normally do. I’d know what each family member takes in their coffee, because I always make sure they feel welcome in my rooms.
I no longer know what my patient does for a living, how many children they have, if they are married, or if they have a significant other. I don’t know what channel they enjoy watching, what music they like, if they like lots of blankets or only a few, whether or not they sleep with socks on, or if their left or right side bothers their back when I turn them.
I get report so quickly these days, and each patient has exactly the same report. It goes like this:
“They had a dry cough, a fever that would not subside with Tylenol, body aches, and difficulty breathing. It progressively worsened, and eventually they presented to the Emergency Room. Their oxygen needs continued to increase until finally they wound up intubated, and transferred to the Medical ICU. Here are their ventilatory settings and the sedation they are currently receiving. See you tonight. Oh, and by the way – they have a high fever and they won’t tolerate you touching them – at all.
This virus is evil.
How is it that I can vividly remember the three patients and their families I mentioned above, and it has been one to two years since I cared for each of them? Yet, I remember so little about my first few COVID patients just under a month ago?
One of my first COVID patients had a tattoo across his chest that read, “FAMILY.” It’s all I knew about him. I assumed family must be important to him.
Another patient had parents who would call on speaker phone and cry. “Do you have sons?” they asked me. “He’s our only one. Please save him.”
Another patient woke up and couldn’t really remember how to speak English, so I knew very, very little about her.
A young man I cared for last week had the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. I knew that he had a girlfriend, but she never called for updates. I wondered – Is she sick, and hospitalized as well? I’ll bet she loves his eyes.
My patients can’t see my face, my smile, or my concern for them. I have on a mask, covered by another mask, covered by a shield, my glasses, a head covering, and a gown and gloves. I can hardly recognize my co-workers, so I’m certain we all look alike. That’s got to be frightening!
It’s as if this evil virus has taken away any personal contact between caregiver and patient. And to add insult to injury, pretty consistently these COVID patients don’t seem to tolerate any touch whatsoever. So, not only are they alone – now as the caregiver, I cannot even reassure them with a soft touch. No one gets to come and hold their hand, or stroke their brow, or just give a reassuring touch. They die alone – with no last embrace, no last kiss, no last goodbye, no last anything.
Nothing about this feels right.
I want so badly for these days to end. I want things to go back to normal – yet I find myself not wanting to forget these days. I’ve seen the very best in people in the past month, and that somehow feels like a throat punch to COVID. I pray that part never ends.
You’re exhausting me, COVID. You’re exhausting my co-workers, my family, my friends, and my colleagues. You’ve kept me separated from my grandchildren for a month, and you’re trying to TAKE people from me that I love.
I HATE you, COVID.
The battle rages on – and while you may win a few battles here and there – you most certainly will not win the war.
Screw you, COVID!