The final insult after my husband died alone

This new virus is changing everyday life-hospitals are doing their best to protect their staff and patients.  One thing I’ve learned is that they need to do a better job of communicating with families.

My husband was 70 years old when he died of cancer and COVID-related issues.  He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, lung mets to the brain on December 23, 2019. Because he had only one lesion in the brain, the oncologists were treating him aggressively as a stage 3+:  CyberKnife and radiation to lungs, chemotherapy. Unfortunately,  his treatments were interrupted many times due to complications of treatment: cardiac arrhythmia requiring ablation, then pneumonia, then radiation pneumonitis.   At one point, he was dependent on oxygen 24/7.

He had a total of 9 hospitalizations.  The last five were after the no visitor policy was in place.  Being an RN for over 40 years, this was extremely difficult. Unfortunately, he passed away in August after getting COVID, which I’m sure he got from his prior hospital stay.  My husband never complained, but many, many needs went unmet, he wasn’t a complainer, and also didn’t know how to speak up for what he needed.  I feel communication between MD and family could have been much better; I had to call multiple times to speak to the MD on more than one occasion.

He had multiple reasons for being immunocompromised: low neutrophils, radiation, chemo.  He was going to radiology without a mask. I asked the nurse, “Are you putting a mask on him, to protect him?” The nurse said there’s no order. Whatever happened to nursing judgment?  I asked the doctor why he wasn’t in reverse isolation? The doctor’s reply: There is a pandemic. Don’t you realize we need to conserve PPE for nurses and staff? I told the doctor I’d bring some from home!

The separation of families has been horrible.   There are no patient advocates like family members.  When people are sick, they don’t always know what to ask for or wash their hands after touching things. There is a patient advocate at one hospital he stayed in; they worked business hours. One time he was sent home from a six-day stay with both sides of his Mediport accessed, covered with a non-occlusive dressing, and two needles sticking out! I had to take him back after arguing with the bedside nurse why this wasn’t OK.  He was also made a DNR with no calls made to me.  This was reversed. So many things happened that would not have happened if I had been there.  I know the staff is busy, but I also know there were many things that happened that shouldn’t have.

I realize there are no protocols for a novel virus; I realize the rules are being written and rewritten as more is learned. I realize the need for crowd control,  but mostly I realize the need for patient advocates.  If I could have been with my husband his last stay, would he even have gotten COVID?  My husband died alone, with crying family members speaking to him on a cell phone.

Now my husband is gone.  We were married for 39 years.  He died alone.  And the final insult: The hospital never called me when he died.  We had made him a DNR, and after 2 hours without a call from the hospital, I called them.  A physician called me back, and when I asked for the time of death, it was 2 hours prior.

The author is an anonymous nurse.

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