The pandemic has caused flashbacks to my time as a surgical patient in my early 20s. Wondering why everyone kept asking me my name, birthday, and why I was there scared me then. Shouldn't they already know? They were the ones who admitted me to the hospital.
I had been afraid and mostly on my own, but there was absolutely no comparison to what my patients have been experiencing on the COVID unit. Sick, scared, confused, and utterly alone. Older colleagues compare the pandemic to the times of HIV and hantavirus, with social isolation and uncertainty reigning supreme.
Because of the steep uptick in cases in my area, COVID-positive patients had to share rooms, like in the good old days. Once, while I was helping a patient get up to use the restroom prior to discharge, his roommate cheered with glee, so happy he had gotten better after their time together. Afterward, the roommate, on a high-flow nasal cannula, confided that he hoped to be well enough to get out of there one day too. The next day he hoped to be well enough to walk to the restroom like his roommate without desaturating and having to rest. After six weeks in the hospital, that patient also got to go home.
Another elderly patient had a room to herself on the eighth floor. Every day I would go see her and help her use her inhaler, one less respiratory therapist to have to gown and mask up per day. Every day she would look into my eyes, the only part she could really see through my PPE, and ask me, “When in tarnation will you have a day off?” Three weeks into her stay and after 21 days straight of her seeing my eyes, she passed away peacefully as one of my residents held her hand, comforting her, after normal work hours. My heart broke that I was not the one to be there to hold her hand, and it shattered even more knowing her family was not there either.
Sympathy in times like these is paramount. We may not be able to know what a patient is going through because, thankfully, we have not had to do it ourselves. But being able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes is ultimately going to be what helps us get through this thing. Having the privilege to hold someone's hand during their scariest moments, when the people they love are not able to, is the greatest gift of all.