La Oferta

April 20, 2024

A Doctor’s Diary: “I can’t believe he’s gone” – the lives lost to COVID-19

The sixth installment of a special EFE series featuring the first-hand account of pediatric surgeon Colleen Fitzpatrick, who offered her support to an ICU for adults at a community hospital outside New York City, the global epicenter of the coronavirus.

New York, May 10 (EFE).– People often ask how I’m doing, and generally I’m OK.

Actually, I think the hardest times have been some of my days off. Generally, the pace on working days has been so busy, there hasn’t been time to stop and think. But days off give me a chance to pause and reflect.

They are also the days where I most feel the impact of social isolation, away from my family and my dog. Phone calls and Zoom are OK, but they are no substitute for a hug or being smacked in the face by a wagging tail.

Nevertheless, this is not to say there aren’t emotional moments at work.

We rarely let family members into the unit, but in one instance we let the daughter of one of our patients visit her dying parent. She was my age (I am 46 years old) and her parent was the age of my parents.

I listened as she FaceTimed with family members who said their good-byes, sang songs and said prayers. It just seemed so unfair that this family was being robbed of the opportunity to be physically present during this time. I fought back tears as I imagined what it would be like if this was my family.

Another patient died and I called the family to let them know. I believe this was only the second time I’d spoken with them and now I was telling them their loved one was dead.

We discussed the need to contact a funeral home so arrangements could be made to pick up the body from the hospital morgue. And, because of social distancing, that would be it. No memorial service, no gathering of friends and family to celebrate this person’s life. Just like that it was over and there would be no immediate closure.

I think every person on the staff in the unit has had their own emotional moments. Different events were trigger points for different people, but at different times things got to all of us in one way or another.

One patient, in particular, got to all of us. I think this patient was our youngest (in his mid-30s) and he had a young and growing family.

Terrified of going on a ventilator, he placed his trust in us when the time came to do so. Because he was young, I think we all thought he would do well. But rather than getting better, he got sicker and sicker. Eventually his lungs and his heart stopped working in spite of all our efforts.

For the next several days, there was this pervasive feeling of “I can’t believe he’s gone.” I think everyone felt defeated and somehow cheated. But, we rallied to support one another at that moment as we did in all of the others.

Another amazing source of support came from the families of our patients.

Even after delivering bad news, families would express their gratitude to me and the rest of the team, wishing us safety and continued health.

I honestly had to choke back tears on several occasions. How could they be thanking us when we weren’t doing better? But I think they knew we were doing our best. And, I believe we were.

We were there for our patients and we were there for each other. Each and every one of us, irrespective of job title, was part of this team that showed up and was present each and every day.

Just showing up would have been enough, but it was so much more than that. Knowing we were there together has helped make all the difference.