As I was checking our Facebook notifications at the 911 Gives Hope Toy Drive, I came across a post that stopped my scroll. My friend Suzie is a COVID nurse, and she shared a very true and sad post from fellow nurse, Sarah Debes McQuay. I actually had to stop reading it, because I started to tear up, and that would just be a mess in public.
Now, I'm back in the studio, and it's so important for me to share her message with you. We've seen so many stories about healthcare workers getting exhausted from the surge in patients. But, it's not just physical exhaustion, it's mental and emotional, too.
I've said it before, when my mother-in-law died from COVID in October, I just don't know how the nurses are coping. They are the last person most of the patients are with, right before they die. Family could not be at the hospital, so a nurse (I'm not sure who, but I'd love to thank her someday) Face-timed with us, so her husband, sons and grandkids could say goodbye. That was by-far the absolute most heartbreaking thing I've ever witnessed.
This letter that Sarah has written to patients like my mother-in-law, who didn't make it, paints the true story of what nurses are going through daily. They usually get to know the patients, before the COVID really takes over. With her permission, here is her letter to the patients that aren't saved.
"To the ones we couldn't save:
I am sorry.
So very sorry.
I am so sorry this virus damaged your body past the ability for us to repair it. I am sorry that the best we did wasn't enough for you.
You were a patient on our unit for a long time, much longer than most patients we have. You asked us about our families, our children, and the events of the world. You asked us how our days off were. We showed off our kids, and you proudly showed your family to us as well. We became friends.
We watched you fight. We watched you grow weaker and weaker, yet your spirit remained in tact. You didn't want to 'be a bother' to the staff. When we walked by the glass doors because your vitals were bad, you would flash a thumbs up sign to us, letting us know you were fine and we could stop worrying.
But you weren't. You were getting tired. We, the doctor, your nurse and you, decided it was time to let you rest. You were thankful, because you were exhausted. So we intubated you and put you on the ventilator. And you relaxed and rested. You were still able to make jokes about cheesy Hallmark movies. You still laughed and interacted with us, but you able to rest.
And time passed, and then the ventilator wasn't enough. We watched your labs get worse, your 'critical but stable' condition started to deteriorate even more. Every interaction with you came with the heavy weight that we knew you were getting worse, yet we offered hope for you. We whispered in your ear to keep fighting, to rest, and let us stand over you. You nodded, squeezed our hands, and rested. And we left the room, and cried. We knew that time was limited,
interventions were running out, and so was the quality of life you once had.
You asked us to not let you suffer, and we did our best. We did everything.
And when it became clear your lungs wouldn't work, we called your family and explained that your lungs were just too damaged. And currently there are 5 nurses standing in PPE waiting for your heart to stop so we can code you - because that is what is next.
We were watching our friend die in front of us.
Your family had compassion and told us to let your suffering end. But not all families have that thought process. Some families cannot understand how sick you are, and push for us to continue to do everything, and don't understand at the cellular level you cannot get oxygen into your body. And with out oxygen, you cannot live.
All of this is preventable. The last month of isolation and exile from the family you love - it is all preventable.
Please, I beg of you, wear masks. And if you can go there with out a mask, don't go there. The numbers continue to climb.
There are people who have said to me: I wish I had not gone to <insert vacation, party, wedding, funeral here>.
Please don't let the last chapter of your life be as a patient in the hospital.
Signed,
A Covid ICU Nurse."
***Disclaimer - this is not about any patient in particular. This is the scenario that is repeated over and over on my unit. These are the experiences of myself and my coworkers. Moral distress is real, and most of your nurses are suffering with it. Do your part.
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