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Treating COVID patients in the ICU: Ashlei Stevens’ story

Nurses spend the most time with their patients. They see a lot. They shed a lot of tears. This is one of many stories we will be sharing.

“Family on line 2” the unit secretary tells me as I’m cleaning your mouth, wishing you would wake up and try to jerk that breathing tube out. It’s your husband again- I’m sure of it- hoping for an update different, better, than the last few. It has been twelve days since you FaceTimed him and told him you couldn’t do it anymore, you were tired, we were putting the tube down. You told him how much you loved him…. You asked him to take care of things, reminded him which treats the dog likes best, and you promised you would be home soon. My heart shattered with every word you struggled to get out, because I knew the chances of you leaving the hospital in anything but a body bag were slim to none.

I tell you I’m going to talk to your husband and I’ll be back in just a minute. “Hey honey, I was just in the room with her, I told her you’d be on the phone! How are you holding up?’ He tells me how he hasn’t slept in your bed since you came in. The dog won’t eat much, not even those treats you made sure he remembered. He tells me even though his isolation period is over, he still can’t bring himself to leave the house without you, because he has to come home without you and it’s too hard. He said he hates himself for not forcing you to get vaccinated when he did, and I try to console him, convince him you were capable of making your own decision- but I know he will harbor guilt over your decision for as long as he lives without you. He asks me when he can see you, but unfortunately you still have at least a week left before you can have any visitors, barring any worsening symptoms or fevers. He asks if there have been any improvements at all. I tell him about the worsening chest x ray and how we had to turn your paralytic back on because allowing you to breathe on your own at all is literally killing you. I tell him your kidney function has worsened more today, and the next step is continuous dialysis. I tell him about the blood clots we found this morning and how you were started on a blood thinner, but we had to hold it because you are bleeding excessively and you need a transfusion. He tells me to do whatever I can do to keep you alive, and I wish so badly he could see you because he wouldn’t want you to live this way, I am sure of it. He asks me to tell you he loves you, and I make him promise to take care of himself before ending the call and resuming my role in trying to get you back home to him.

I am sure he received the bereavement card I mailed him by now. I know it does not provide any real consolation for having lost the love of his life, after spending nearly a month apart, him at home worried about you……. You in an icu bed hooked to tubes and wires, on so much sedation it’s unlikely you were aware of much past that FaceTime call you had with him the day we had to intubate you. I hope you heard me all the times I talked to you, telling you he loves you, telling you he and the dog need you to come home to them. I hope you heard me fighting for you to breathe and to live and to stay with me.

I hope the rest of the world can hear me fighting for them, now, to get vaccinated, to not wind up being another bereavement card sent, another battle lost.

Ashlei Stevens, RN-BSN

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