It is in this time of tragedy and crisis that I have discovered my calling.
As I enter rooms filled with aerosolized forms of the coronavirus, realizing that I am at high risk of catching this highly contagious disease, I set aside my fears to hold the hands of patients — strangers and friends, all alike. I love what I do.
I tell them that they have the virus. I watch their eyes fill with fear. I tell them this does not mean that they are going to die.
Their oxygen is low — they may be intubated. I tell them they may have a tube placed down their throat very soon, a tube connected to a machine. This machine will help them breathe.
Anxiety takes over. I tell them not to fear. I tell them this may be temporary. I tell them (if the time were to come), the machine would give their body time to fight the virus — to give their body time to heal. I tell them they would be in a coma for 10 to 14 days. I tell them we are going to support them every step of the way. I tell them that we are in this together, that we are going to get through this together. There is nothing to fear.
Hours pass, the time has come.
“Do you remember that discussion we had earlier? Do you remember how I told you that you may be intubated? … It’s time.”
Fear takes over.
“Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Do you see all these doctors outside your door? (I’m referring to the ICU fellow, attending, anesthesiologists, nurses and respiratory therapists). We are all here to support you and to get you through this. We are in this together.”
They ask if it is going to hurt. “They are going to give you a medication to put you to sleep. You won’t feel a thing. If everything goes as planned, you are going to wake up in about two weeks.”
“Is there someone you would like to call?” I call a loved one; I tell them that I am at the bedside. I tell them that the patient is unable to speak, as they can barely breathe. I tell them that their family or friend can hear everything. I ask for their last words. They say their goodbyes. The patient is nearly ready, as am I.
“Do you have any questions?” They nod their head. “No? Okay. Let me ask the other doctor’s to come in. It’s time. Don’t be afraid. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.” They respond with gratitude and relief. I smile, step outside and turn to the team, “They are ready.”
Grief takes over me over having intubated another patient — not another number, not another MRN, but another soulful human being. But I’ve done everything I could. Satisfied with their ease — this is where I’m meant to be.