“She arrived at the emergency department just before midnight. The emergency physician handed her over to me 15 minutes later. ‘She’s palliative,’ he stated. ‘Confirmed COVID positive a week ago. The nursing home transferred her here because of her increasing respiratory distress.’
I dutifully donned up and entered the isolated room where she lay in a stretcher, alone. She looked extremely frail. An elderly woman in her 80s with advanced dementia, her blood pressure was low, she was struggling to breathe, and she was slumped over to the side. I didn’t need to examine her to know she didn’t have long to live.
I asked the charge nurse to keep her in the ED until the morning to avoid traumatizing her with further transport. I called the patient’s daughter – at 2 am – to confirm her code status. The daughter sounded tired and weary over the phone. She spoke about how she hadn’t been able to see her mother recently. Her father was also admitted to the hospital and in poor condition.
‘No, she wouldn’t want to be resuscitated. Besides, there’s nothing you can do, right?’
‘We can keep her comfortable’, I managed to say.
And we did, with hydromorphone to ease her breathing and oxygen for comfort. Around 6am, I was called – she had already passed away.
A while later, I went to one of the internal medicine floors to drop off a consult note. One of the charts caught my eye – the last name was the same as the patient I had just seen. The nurse next to me grabbed the chart and remarked offhandedly: ‘He just passed away.’ I realized it was the woman’s husband, from the same nursing home.
I went home that morning with a heavy heart.
COVID has become a ubiquitous word. But yet as it spreads, its’ victims become increasingly faceless and nameless.
It’s a peculiarity of the disease that our grief is borne alone, as we are unable to gather and find solace. But even apart, our grief becomes a shared burden, and we stand stronger together.”