As an ICU nurse, I have never seen such an incredible death threat

Our 23 bed ICU has been converted to COVID-19 patients. All of them.

I want to tell myself this is science fiction, but it’s not. It’s real. And we are scared.

As I enter the unit to start my night shift, we have a huddle of the off-going and oncoming nurses.

We are committed to fighting this invisible monster.

After a brief update of all of our patients, we bow our heads and say a prayer. A prayer to protect all health care and essential workers across our nation. And our universe. A prayer for safety and strength. A prayer for the patients stricken with this potentially lethal virus. A prayer for the families that are not allowed in to see their loved ones. Not allowed in to say hello, or to say I love you or to say their goodbyes.
ICU has always been my favorite job. The dynamic and strong work here. Fearless and endless, we never stop.

But this is different.

We receive our assignments. If we are lucky, we only receive two patients—both on ventilators. We have a clean nurse to assist with adding our PPE’s. We also pray that we have the right protective equipment. N95 masks, isolation gown, gloves, foot covers, and face shield. I am the “dirty nurse.” I have to be prepared to have everything ready to go into that patient’s room.

IV antibiotics, IV drips like vasopressin and Levophed for those dangerously low blood pressures. Lab vials for the continuous need for lab work taken from the patient’s arterial line. Tube feedings for their nutrition. Morphine IV drips for their pain and discomfort, propofol for sedation.

Beyond all of the technical and mandatory medical needs of this patient, I have to remember there is a person on that ventilator. A person who is all alone. There is no family member with them. It’s me and the patient. And that steady beep of the EKG monitor and the pumping of the ventilator. The noises that provide no comfort.

This virus does not discriminate. I have a 30-year-old male who was perfectly healthy and I have 64-year-old lady. This virus is an equal opportunity employer.

In my 30 plus years as an ICU nurse, never have I seen this incredible death threat.

I check the ventilator along with the respiratory therapists at my side. Check the settings, suction the patient. Though the patient is in a semi-chemical daze from the pain meds and sedation medications, I squeeze this young man’s hand, and I let him know we are here for him. That we are going to do everything possible to make him strong again. To let him walk out of this place and see his wife again and hug his little kids again. And pet his dog again. I tell him to hang in there. That we are doing everything possible to fight this monster.

His breathing is shallow. His lungs have taken a beaten. But I can see his pulse, and I can feel his pulse.

I hold his hand. And tell him to be strong. I say a prayer for him. For us.

I want to shatter inside myself, but I know I can’t. We must stay strong.

He turns his head towards me. And squeezes my hand back.

Hope.

This is dedicated to all of the nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists who dedicate their lives every day in the face of danger. Thank you for all that you do.

Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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