Code blue—ICU room 12
That’s our covid ICU. A third code blue in two hours. I quicken my step as the medical residents jog past me. I know there is no family at bedside because they aren’t allowed to visit the covid patients at all. But I will need to contact the family and let them know what is happening.
I arrive to a crowd outside the room, all donning the proper PPE as fast as they can. There are several people already in the room, performing chest compressions. The nurses tell me these chest compressions on covid patients are so different than chest compressions on non-covid patients; the lungs are harder, and pushing through them to get to the heart is very difficult.
The team gets a pulse back. I call the husband of this patient to let him know what is going on. At first, he’s a bit stoic but then I hear the catch in his voice. It’s so difficult to have these conversations over the phone. I didn’t know this family or patient previously so I was unsure of their faith background, if any at all. After a moment of silence on the phone, I hear a whispered, Oh Jesus…oh Jesus help her…don’t take her from me… and then a bit louder, Lord Jesus, don’t take her from me! I close my eyes and imagine this couple. The patient is in her mid-fifties. I imagine their lives together, how they might’ve met, what they like to do together.
“Is she going to die?” he asks me.
I’m quiet for a minute. I finally respond quietly and slowly: “I really don’t know; I do know the team is doing everything they can for her. And as I said her pulse is back…” My voice trailed off because in that moment, she lost her pulse again. The team, at the ready, began CPR again. After several rounds of this, it was deemed futile and Mrs. S died.
“Sir, the physician is here, I’m going to let you speak to her ok?”
“Ok.” I could hear it in his voice. He already knew.
I passed the phone to the doctor who very gently explained all that had transpired, ending with, “And I’m so sorry to tell you that she died.”
I heard the sob escape Mr. S through the phone even though I sat two chairs away from the doctor. She put her head down, still holding the phone to her ear. “I’m so sorry,” I hear her say. I look at her. I know she’s sorry. She has tears forming in her eyes and she ran the first two codes of the day as well. She’s tired. I look around—we all are.
A few minutes later, the doctor hands the phone back to me and I express my deepest condolences to Mr. S. He’s a bit more composed and then he asks me if I can tell his daughter what happened. I agreed, thinking he would put her on the phone and I could recap the situation or even ask the doctor to since she was still right next to me.
“She’s in room 1410,” he says.
“Oh,” is all I can say. That’s another covid floor—the non-ICU floor. His wife just died from covid and he wants me to go tell his daughter who also has covid what happened. “Ok…are you sure you don’t want to call her yourself?” I’m not trying to get out of it, but I imagine I’d rather hear such news from a relative.
“She’s trached and can’t speak so she’s only texting and I can’t send this in a text message; just please go tell her.” His voice broke. “And tell her to please get well. Tell her I can’t lose her too. Tell her I’m ok, but I need her to come home.”
My heart broke all over again as I walked to the other floor, preparing to tell this young woman that her mother just died from the very virus she is fighting herself. It went about as well as you might imagine. She cried a soundless cry as a tube is in between her vocal chords. This crying made her breathing even more difficult and alarms began sounding and the nurse came in. We tried to soothe her. I sat and held her hand for almost an hour. I said very little. There’s nothing to say.
Before this day was over, I sat with two more families who could actually come and say goodbye in person to their loved ones because they were outside of the 21-day window—after 21 days, you’re no longer considered contagious and you can have visitors. Both of these patients died on day 22, like they waited, knowing they would get an in-person visit instead of the electronic visit via the iPad that we do for all the active covid patients. They still only get 5 people for a one time, 30-minute bedside visit. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than the iPad.
People ask me often if we should “close down” again. I don’t think we would need to if everyone would do two things—get vaccinated and wear a mask. Wear it for you, wear it for me, but most of all, wear it for your neighbor: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus told him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:36-39). Wear it for them. Get vaccinated. Save yourself and your family the possibility of these tragic deaths and miserable grief. And yes, wear the mask after you’re vaccinated. Mr. S’s family story is all too familiar anymore. If you’d like to read more vignettes about some families I’ve journeyed with during this pandemic, you can click here to read an article I wrote which was published in March.
Rev. Rachel M B Greiner
Director of Pastoral Care and
Clinical Pastoral Education
Memorial University Medical Center