A month’s time had passed in the blink of an eye. It just disappeared.
I work in New Orleans’ only level 1 trauma unit.
We see so much in a days work.
We deal with loss every day and we’ve dealt with it every day for a long time. We're pretty numb to the traumatic things we see; you find a way to compartmentalize it and prioritize care to save patients' lives.
We get in there with every patient. Especially nurses. It’s a race against time, it’s an intimate experience. We get physically close to our patients.
During the COVID-19 rollout, we didn't know what was going on yet, because this was all in the early stages. So the extra steps to protect ourselves became a really big obstacle to how we usually work. We’re usually in the rooms, next to the patient for long amounts of time.
With COVID-19? The opposite.
We stay in the rooms only as long as we absolutely need, to reduce exposure. I just remember the doctor saying, "This is your new normal folks." It felt very surreal, lonely, scary, an overwhelming feeling of the unknown.
Walking into what is usually an already chaotic unit during the peak of COVID-19 was intense. Alarms, nurses yelling through doors and respirators and banging on doors from the inside asking for supplies, code carts lining the hallways, blue gowns everywhere. The rooms quickly changed from trauma patients to COVID-19 patients.
Early in the stages of COVID-19, I met my sweet patient.
Riddled with comorbidities and a pending COVID-19 test, she was a very kind and frail lady. She spoke so patiently to me and others she encountered throughout the day, even during a time of suffering for her.
This day was her last and she was spoken to mostly through a glass door or by people garbed up in masks, respirators, gowns, and protective eyewear; she didn't even know what her caregivers looked like. How terrifying.
Losing a patient is never easy, I want that to be understood. The nature of caring for trauma patients, though, has a way of hardening you.
This day, the hardened shell I had built completely shattered and the tears were plentiful.
Those around me commented, "What's wrong with you? We do this every day!" I felt the same way, but I couldn't control it.
It took a few hours and a quick trip out into the fresh air to shake it off. I thought, "What is wrong with you, get it together!"
This was a different feeling of loss; one I had never really experienced. She lived her last day without seeing her family; her family wasn't able to comfort her in her last hours in such an unknown and scary time in the world. That is all I could think of. I couldn't fathom losing a loved one this way.
COVID-19 has made its way into our lives by stealing precious time from everyone — time from patients in their last hours, time from doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists locked away from their families after caring for COVID-19 patients, time from family members worried about their loved ones as they battle this virus seemingly alone. A months' time had passed in the blink of an eye. It just disappeared.
I've cared for so many patients before her and after her, but I've never cried like that over a patient.
I’ve Never Cried Like That About A PatientSarah Wells