A hospitalist’s COVID reflection

Amidst the height of the COVID pandemic in New York City, I turned to Netflix to find morsels of yesterday, which seemed so distant then. During this time, I discovered Mindy Kaling’s creation, Never Have I Ever. The show tries to tell the story of a protagonist who is struggling to find compassion for her identity as a South Asian girl living in California after the tragic loss of her father and a brief stint of psychosomatic paralysis. The show, while problematic in some ways, speaks to this coming of age saga which is endearing to the viewer at times. There is comedy, some laughter, some tears, and a lot of little somethings to chew on as the show ends. While there is no comedy or laughter which accompanies the destructive nature of COVID-19, my experiences at the hospital made me question the little somethings which continue to serve as a reminder of a time when I had to wrestle with bare-bones work of medicine in a pandemic and acknowledge never have I ever had to video call a family member as their loved one took their last breath.

Seeing the person’s body turn cold, the glimmer in their eyes quietly fading, and the clamoring of the family on the phone screen screaming, “We love you.” Seeing death this close and witnessing the loneliness in the room really felt like a gut punch the first time it happened. Maybe a tear formed at the edge of my eye, I really cannot remember. I just remember the moment as I froze up. This human in front of me died, alone, and all they had was my hand covered in a glove, holding a phone to their face as they transitioned to the life of being an heirloom of memories for their family. I had not orchestrated this. There was something else at work. He was expected to die given the COVID-19 virus had meticulously ravaged the lungs, then the kidneys, and between these two organs, little room was left for salvaging life in the background of a history of Alzheimer’s dementia which had already left the person bed-bound and frail from recurrent trips to the hospital because of urinary tract infections and aspiration pneumonias.

COVID-19 was the final culminating event where death was inescapable, and after a few days of daily video chats with family at the patient’s bedside, his family assented to comfort measures near the end of life. However, in a non-COVID world, a few months back, his family would be in the room, holding his hand, praying for him, and advocating for his needs. But now it was just us, the medical care team doing what we knew best: Adjust, administer, care, feel loss and move on to the next patient in the adjoining bed who was still in the trenches against this virus.

Sameen Farooq is an internal medicine physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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