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COVID-19 continues to be a global concern. The virus has affected young and old from all walks of society! Minorities and underprivileged population tend to suffer more from the disease directly and indirectly. COVID-19 and the physical, psychological, social, and economic challenges related to the disease have uncertainty and mixed emotions among health care workers. I continue to have patient encounters that will remain with me for the rest of my nursing journey and beyond.
While the numbers were rising, our unit was converted to a ‘containment unit’. Despite the underlying fear of contracting the virus, I took the opportunity to care for them and tried to see life through their eyes! What are people longing for? How do they define their life’s purpose? Here, I wish to share two stories of my patients. Although they had contracted the same infection, they both had different outcomes.
My patient, a 60-year-old male, was initially admitted to the ICU when his breathing got worse. He was afraid for his life! Once his condition was stable, he was transferred to our unit for further treatment. Being a containment unit, we went into the patient’s room once every 4 hours unless his condition required more monitoring and care from the nurse. One day, before going to his room, I called the room to see how he was doing that morning and asked him if he needed me to get anything for him other than his medications. He said he didn’t need anything. I noticed apathy in his voice. While giving his medications, I explained the purpose of the medications and their side effects. One of the medications was the antiviral medication – Remdesivir. As I told him about it, he said, “Ma’am, what is more terrifying to me is to be a part of an experiment! There is no guarantee for recovery!” Tears were just trickling down as he spoke to me. I stood silently and listened to him as he poured out his fears! He was afraid he would not be there with his wife and his grandchildren! I told him about the drug about which we are yet to know more. I also mentioned it to him that I had discharged another patient who was treated with the same medication successfully. I encouraged him to be positive and give this drug a try. I assured him that the health care team is monitoring his progress and any adverse reactions to the medications.
At this moment, I had to ask myself a crucial question. Was I giving the patient a false reassurance?’What data did I have to support my claim that this is a great drug other than the fact that it worked on someone else? Was it unethical? I had no answer! I remembered one thing that my father used to say about medications. He said that, for a medication to work, the patient must be open to trying it. The patient must lay his trust on the medication for it to work. I was only trying to give some hope so that he is open to trying out this new drug. I wanted him to look at the silver lining and ignore the dark cloud. I hope and pray that he would recover and go home to his family. After two weeks the patient got better and got discharged. This is one of the success stories of COVID-19. I wish all stories were like this and the deadly, invisible enemy would vanish completely.
Well, life is not so fair. Several nursing home residents in our area were infected with COVID-19 and were admitted to our unit. They were old, feeble, and had multiple comorbidities. I remember the sweet smile of a female patient who was 88 years old. She had advanced Alzheimer’s disease. According to her daughter, prior to getting sick with COVID-19, her mother was doing fairly well. She was walking and eating without assistance. But the infection brought about a sudden decline in her health. Now, she had come to the point of not eating or talking. The day I took care of her, she started to cough which was non-stop and became hypoxic. I straightened her up and patted her back, telling her to take deep breaths. She was not able to follow any commands. I called the rapid response team immediately. Owing to her advanced age and her severity of illness, the medical team and her family revisited the goals of care and switched the focus to comfort care. I remember going home that day and feeling so scared because I stood by her while she was coughing so vigorously. Although we were masked, my fear was still there. I went home completely worried about her and my chances of getting it! I took a good hot head-shower, prayed, and slept. All the days I took care of her, I used to keep her very clean and comfortable. I made sure that I did everything to ease her breathing. Sometimes, you don’t need to know someone personally to like them. All I knew was that she was very sweet and precious. Her daughter used to call me every day for updates. On one of those days, when I noticed a decline in my patient’s status, I informed her daughter. She came to the hospital to see her. I made sure the daughter had the appropriate PPE and went along with her to see the patient. She told her mother, “Momma, you are wonderful! I love you! You are a fighter! But mom, now you have fought enough. It is time for you to rest. Please let go! You have had a great life. I will always love you. Please take rest. Please let go!” She cried and I cried too! The next day, her mother passed away.
What I see in both situations is how much we get entwined with what life has in store for us and how hard it is for us to let go. It is hard for us to accept that we have to reach our end too. Still, while these two patients were battling their illness, one was waiting to go home to see his family and the other was waiting to listen to her daughter’s words so that she could leave in peace. I hope these situations help us to appreciate the wonderful lives we have! At least people around us are alive and well and so are we. Even though I see people struggle with this infection and I have a good chance of contracting it myself, I still plan to be there for my next shift with another set of sweet patients to care for. I honestly don’t want to have a thought of me getting COVID-19, which may affect my morale. All I can say is that I love my job and will do what it takes to keep it going! It is a relief that using correct PPE helps reduce the risk of contracting the virus while taking care of patients with COVID-19.