I enter the hospital to work again. I must work as I have three small children and a husband presently out of work because of COVID. He is “non-essential.”
A violinist is playing at the employee entrance. I know they do this to lift our spirits. But it’s a slow, sad string that reminds me of the titanic. And yes, every day I clock in, I feel as if it’s a sinking ship.
By now, we should have plenty of N95s, plenty of face shields and gloves and disposable gowns to enter that COVID room, that COVID patient that never goes away. That continues to multiply.
It’s a painful job. I thought I would be saving lives as a nurse, but instead, we are prolonging death.
This ICU is 24 beds. All COVID patients. 24 strong. I gown and glove and put my N95 mask on and face shield to enter that patient’s room.
That patient with COVID: He’s 40-something, and he refused to wear a mask anywhere. He said it was a hoax. Said it wouldn’t happen to him. Spread his infection to his mom and grandmother and anyone else that potentially came in contact. He had come gasping for air to the ED. It didn’t help that he was an everyday 2 pack of cigarettes smoker. That every day he downed several cheeseburgers with fries and a milkshake. That every night he drank many cans of beer.
He said it was against his right of freedom to wear a mask. He said it was a muzzle. He said he wasn’t going to be one of those sheep that follow a ridiculous rule of social distancing, washing hands, and wearing a mask. The muzzle, he said, suppressed his right to speak.
And now he contacted COVID. His O2 saturation was in the low 80s, he had co-morbidities like being overweight, high cholesterol, a cigarette smoker, and now his lungs were failing him. COVID easily attached and infected his lungs. It was only a matter of time for Johnny to earn dialysis, multi-system organ failure crept in. Kidneys failing, blood clots to his brain. And no matter what we did with those miraculous drugs of remdesivir and steroids, it wasn’t working. His breathing became asynchronous with the ventilator. We called it “guppy” breathing. Like a fish without water. He couldn’t follow commands. The family held tight for hope. For a miracle.
The MRI showed no activity in his brain. Anoxic injury with blood clots. COVID rapidly ate through his body.
I pulled my work phone out, heavily encased in protective plastic, so I could face time his family.
No holding hands. No final kiss on the cheek.
Just a final vision of Johnny.
We pronounced him dead at 5:15 a.m. Notified the family. The morgue was notified. Make room for one more dead person to be stacked on top of another like multiple bunk beds.
Gave him his final bath. Toe tied him for his identity. Wrapped him up in his morgue plastic zip-up bag. And we sent him off.
Clocking out, we all face local police and administrators and firefighters and medics cheering us on. Congratulating us. Calling us heroes.
Free pizza and ice cream for us.
And we bow our heads low.
Because we don’t want the cheering and balloons and the violinist and the pizza and ice cream and clapping hands.
We don’t want to be called heroes.
What we want is respect for each other.
What we want is for you to wear a simple mask.
What we want is for you to social distance and wash your hands.
What we want is for you to allow us to clock out and go home to our families safely without feeling that we potentially could infect our loved ones because of you being so incredibly careless.
Pay attention to science and medicine, or else you may be the next careless victim.
Wear your mask.
Deal with the truth and get over your ego.
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