By Jamie Zotynia
Nurse at St. Clare’s Health
It’s been about four weeks since I last held my son in my arms. This is the longest time I’ve ever been without him, and every passing day adds to this. I miss him terribly, but I can rest easy at night knowing he’s safe.
This is worse than I ever could have imagined. Before COVID-19 hit America, I was the one that said, “It’s just like having the flu. They’re making a big deal about nothing.” This is nothing like the flu, and we’re not making a big enough deal about this.
I’m sure you know people are dying. What you may not know is that some people are dying a long, agonizing death. People die gasping for air, reaching out for their loved ones that aren’t there. Young people are critically ill, sedated and paralyzed in ICU, circling the drain while families at home wait by the phone and pray for a miracle.
I’m thankful yet terrified to be taking care of these patients. They look up at me and ask if they’re going to die. They burst into tears when it’s confirmed that they have COVID-19. I will never be able to forget the look of fear in their eyes when I tell them they need to be intubated, their hand reaching out to mine. “Please don’t leave my side,” as they dial the phone. “Honey, they’re going to intubate me. I love you. Tell the kids I love them. I have to go. Goodbye.”
“Is this the last stage before I die?” they ask. I try my hardest to reassure them: “Your body is working really hard right now. You’ve put up a good fight. We’re going to put you to sleep and put a tube into your lungs to help you breathe so you can rest and heal. I’ll be with you the whole time.”
All they see are big glasses, a face shield, and a mask; a gloved hand holding theirs. Thankfully, they can’t see my eyes well up with tears. They can’t hear my thoughts of “Am I going to be the last person they talk to?” They can’t feel my heart breaking for them. Every intubation, every death guts me. My heart breaks for every family that has lost someone from COVID-19.
I didn’t become a nurse to watch people die. I became a nurse to help, to heal. A lot of shifts end without progression, feeling unaccomplished and helpless. And it’s not just me. Every healthcare professional is in the same boat. We are all trying to help. We are all at the bedside, holding hands, wiping tears, providing reassuring words and comfort.
We all cheer internally when we hear “Here Comes the Sun” over the loudspeaker, which is played every time someone with COVID-19 leaves the hospital. We all get upset when another one dies. We are all trying our very best for every single patient that comes into the hospital.
They say the peak has hit, and I see the news that people are protesting, wanting to go back to work, wanting to go on vacations and travel and be out with friends. I wish I could take every single one of them with me to work. I wish I could let them see the destruction this virus has done and what it’s still capable of.
This isn’t close to being over. Now is not the time to go out and celebrate because the numbers are finally starting to fall. Enjoy this time with your families. Cherish the time you get to spend home because we don’t get to enjoy that.
We miss our families. We miss our kids. We miss our free time when we didn’t have to worry about anything. We miss restful nights where we didn’t dream or have nightmares about work.
Don’t just thank a “healthcare hero.” Listen. Educate yourself. Follow the rules. They’re there to protect you and us.
Jamie Zotynia is a progressive care nurse at Saint Clare’s in Dover.