Amber Hodges, an Elkhart General Hospital registered respiratory therapist, shares her perspective about caring for COVID patients who are about to die.
“I honestly didn’t think this was going to be any worse than the flu. I just figured it was going to be something we could get under control fast. Then we received our first patient. COVID patients get sick fast. Their lungs become stiff and extremely hard to ventilate, sometimes very quickly. Some days are good days, and other days they are fighting for their life. It’s a very scary virus.
“I’m the one who removes the breathing tube and takes them off life support or takes them off other machines that help push air into their lungs. If my patient starts crying, I’m right there with them, trying to be the strong person for them. But sometimes I cry, too. I try to be their support until the end. If they can talk to me, I try to talk to them to try to ease the anxiety of death being near.
“Sitting with a dying patient is something I feel honored to do. We get to know these patients and become part of their lives. I try to talk with the patient and their family members about some of their favorite memories with the patient. I want them to remember them by a favorite memory they shared with their family, not by their struggle to stay alive.
“COVID patients stay at the hospital for weeks, sometimes months, so we become very close to them. Sometimes we see multiple deaths in a day, or multiple code blues. It takes an emotional toll on us. With the overwhelming amount of patients in the hospital right now, we’re physically and mentally exhausted.
“Sometimes after losing a patient, you need to go to the bathroom to cry for a minute or even just to gather yourself. Personally, it makes my heart hurt for these patients and families who lose a loved one during this time.
“Even the days I’m not at work, I’m always thinking about my patients. Are they going to be there when I get back? Are they getting better? Ever since COVID started, I just can’t shut my brain off about work. These patients are sicker than any other patients I’ve ever cared for. We all work as a team to keep the patient at the center.
“Our community needs to understand that this is a serious virus. It’s very real. It’s important to follow the CDC guidelines and wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance. You don’t want to be on the other end of this, fighting for your life.”