He was one of us. An ICU nurse, one of the best ones. Whenever he took care of one of my patients, I knew that patient and I were lucky. Suddenly, he was not the caretaker anymore but instead was cared for by his own colleagues in his own ICU. He developed COVID-19 while taking care of SARS-CoV-2-positive patients and was hospitalized with respiratory failure. Unfortunately, his clinical status worsened, requiring a transfer to a tertiary care facility, and after a long time on ECMO and life support, he lost his courageous fight.
I was shocked, not only by losing this skilled RN and unique man, but also by how deeply his death affected me as a hospitalist, as a person. COVID-19 hit home, it was there, right in my living room. And although our hospital was one of the first in the nation treating COVID patients and although our team already had to endure the critical illness of one of our ED physicians and one of our APPs, both luckily recovered, we now are mourning a long-term member of our work family.
Despite all this horror that we are all going through, I was, and still am, amazed by the team spirit that our nurses, respiratory therapists, hospitalists, intensivists, ID docs, and all other support staff, including the C-suite in our hospital, have demonstrated. We all came together and each one of us showed their unique skills in a special way. Our fearless team leader looked after us from day 1, organizing daily meetings with updates, and also made sure that our soul/mental health was taken care of. Another team member shared expertise in crisis management that she was able to gain during her time with Médecins Sans Frontières. Another clinician organized a gift of appreciation for our respiratory therapists, who are literally on the front line of patient care, intubating or providing nebulizer treatments, but often not being recognized as much as they deserve. Our ID physicians enrolled our patients in studies so the whole community could benefit. Our administration assured us that no hospitalists would lose their jobs despite financial constraints due to the pandemic. After our colleague's death, our nurses not only organized a fundraiser to support his family of four but hikes in our beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape, which he loved so much.
Here are the lessons that I learned during this pandemic: Keep breathing, enjoy life, hang onto those you cherish and love, and reach out for assistance from others when needed. You are not alone. We are all in this together!
Dr. Koch-Leibmann is a hospitalist with EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Wash.