I’ve cried several times over the past few weeks.
I cried in front of a young man I had never met.
He was probably my age.
I was taking care of his family member in our hospital who had tested positive for coronavirus when the patient’s respiratory status suddenly declined.
His oxygen levels suddenly decreased, and he started gasping for air. Our staff made the decision to intubate the patient — pushing a plastic tube down his throat so he could breathe — and, in hopes of giving him every chance of life, to transfer him to a facility that could provide higher care.
We spent hours calling multiple and much larger health care facilities in hopes of transfer, but they’ve run low on beds, too.
Luckily, after many calls, a hospital in north Mississippi graciously accepted and said they would treat him.
I cried again several days later when I awoke to several text messages that said my patient had died. I had just talked to his sister the day before. She told me his breathing had gotten better.
I cried when a COVID positive patient left our hospital last week. One of our clinic’s nurse practitioners admitted him to the hospital after about 10 days into his infection due to concern for acute hypoxia — there wasn’t enough oxygen in his blood.
I treated the patient for roughly a week before I rotated off our hospital COVID unit, but I remained concerned that the outcome would be similar to the patient I’d lost.
I did not cry when the patient’s wife thanked me in the hospital drive-thru.
It was odd to hear her voice in person. I had only talked to her on the phone because the virus is so infectious our patients can’t have visitors.
I knew the voice, but she had caught me off guard in the drive-thru and luckily, for me, introduced herself.
I did not cry when her previously healthy and fit husband was wheeled to the car in a wheelchair with a canister of home oxygen.
I cried when the patient teared up after thanking me and my partner for the care provided during his hospital stay.
The tears worsened when he and his wife offered homegrown tomatoes in appreciation.
The most recent time I cried was at home.
My kids were running around, arguing which movie to play on our TV. My wife, Dr. Kelsey Dowell, who is in charge of the coronavirus floor at the hospital now, was at the dinner table waiting for me to finish cooking dinner.
She received a call that my nurse’s grandfather’s respiratory status was acutely worsening in the hospital. I cried when I watched through the kitchen window as she FaceTimed our friend to discuss the situation on our back porch.
I continued to cry when she walked back into our home and broke down in tears, knowing the outcome would likely be grim. We cried together as she set up the hospital transfer via helicopter.
I do not cry. I rarely let emotions show, but the virus creates immense frustration. The coronavirus affects every age, gender, and race without reason. Most patients get cold or flu-like symptoms, but some become extremely sick in a very short period of time or many days into their infection. There is little information on how to make COVID patients get better, and our hospital does not have access to the medicines currently being investigated as potential treatment options.
Explaining to a family why they can’t see their loved one in the hospital, potentially for the last time, is never easy and makes me question the morality of the decision each time.
Transferring patients to higher-care facilities has become increasingly difficult as hospitals across the state are filling up. COVID cases are increasing locally, and our hospital COVID numbers are the highest we’ve seen.
People continue to think the virus is not real or that it can’t affect them. People continue to regard the virus as a political scheme or conspiracy theory.
People continue to ignore recommended guidelines on how to help slow the virus’ spread. People continue to complain about wearing a mask.
We’ve got to do better as a community. Limit crowds. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Educate friends and family.
Be considerate of others and their potential health conditions. Stay at home if you can. We are all in this together, whether you or I like it or not.
Thank Dr. Hannah Ray for her months of service treating coronavirus patients.
Thank Dr. Kelsey Dowell for her ongoing efforts to do the same now.
Thank our nurse practitioners for their efforts managing sick patients in the clinic.
Thank our nurses for the risk they take and the care they give. Dr. Erik Lessmann and Dr. Katherine Patterson will soon be rotating on to the hospital COVID service.
Thank them in advance by taking this disease seriously.