Nurse Pens Open Letter To COVID-19 Patient's Family and It Will Break Your Heart
By, Emily Bryant, BSN, RN
It is not supposed to be this way.
I see you there standing 15 feet away from me, but I can’t let you come any closer. I’m glad you came to see him one final time, but what you didn’t see is that I just pounded on his chest and felt his ribs break under my hands trying to keep him alive so that you could have one final goodbye.
Now you can’t even come into the room.
It must look like a scene out of some Sci-Fi movie to you as people covered in yellow gowns, helmets, masks, and hoods poke and prod at your beloved. The doctor must seem like some crazy scientist loudly explaining things to you in scientific terms through the closed doors. But I promise you, we are only trying to help.
I wish I could open the door and bring you in to hold the hand of your loved one as they take their last breath, but in doing that, it would put your entire family and the community at risk.
So instead, I will look at you through tear-stained eyes through a Plexiglas window and ask what you would like me to do for him. I hear your cries of anguish; so much so that although my body is laden with sweat under all of the protective layers, I am covered in goosebumps.
Do you want me to pray with him? Did he like holding hands? What last secrets do you want me to tell him for you? Does he look comfortable enough for you? Did you have a special name for him that you want me to whisper to him? Can I play him his favorite song?
Your hand left an imprint on the door. When you had finally left, the image of you reaching for him through the door represented the way I feel in healthcare right now. We are trying so hard to fight our way to success, but it seems like we are failing.
I am trying my absolute hardest to fight for the good in our community right now, but I have barriers in my way.
With the shortage of PPE worldwide right now, I am only allowed one surgical mask a shift, and my N95 mask is supposed to last me until “it is visibly soiled.”
So, I walk out of my COVID-19 rule out rooms and I wash my paper mask with bleach wipes. I am taking my scrubs off at work before I even get in my car to prevent any contamination that I might bring home with me. I am showering and washing my hair daily as soon as I get home from work. I self-quarantine myself from the community and my family so that I am not unknowingly infecting someone due to my exposures at work. I am practicing as many self-care rituals as I can to help maintain my own health so that I am available to serve your family when they need it.
I am trying my absolute hardest to fight for you.
I wish I could say you are the only family that I have seen this happen to, but it has become normal in our department. I can still hear the wailing of the mother as we turned off the monitor, and stopped squeezing the Ambu bag. There is one sound I have never been able to forget out of all of the years I have worked in this profession, and it is the wail of a mother after calling the "time of death" of her child. She couldn't even go in and hug him. She didn't even know he was sick.
So, sweet family member, it’s not supposed to be this way. My heart is tired and heavy and we are only a few weeks into this. None of us are trained or prepared for the physical and emotional tolls that have infected our world via this Pandemic, but we are trying our absolute hardest to get your loved ones healthy as quickly as possible. There is a looming and heavy energy in our hospitals as the unknowns lurk around the corner.
Please stay home and tell all of your people to do so as well for us. Our hearts can only handle so much right now.
With all the love I can manage to send you,