The Brutal Reality of COVID-19 

Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

The Washington Post has a remarkable piece wherein seven nurses detail their experiences working during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The entire thing is gut-wrenching, but this story from Utah nurse Nate Smithson really knocked me back.

If a patient’s heart stops or if they stop breathing, we call a code blue, and that’s when the doctor, respiratory therapist, nurses, everybody comes into the room. We start chest compressions or CPR or that kind of stuff. This one patient’s heart is not working. So I call the code blue. We all get in there. We start doing the chest compressions. Five minutes later, we get the patient back. We all go back about our work. Twenty minutes later, same thing happens again. We start doing the chest compressions. We start pushing medications as fast as we can to get the patient back again.

The spouse comes into the hospital. I explain: “Just so you know, this is what happened before. It could possibly happen again. If it does, I’m going to need you to step outside of the room.” And as I’m explaining this, sure enough, it happens again. We lose the pulse. We lose the heartbeat. So I ask her to leave the room. Everyone gets in there, and we start going for it. We went for almost two hours: chest compressions, pushing medications, shocking the patient’s heart.

The doctor is ultimately the one who makes the decision about when we stop, and they call time of death. But typically in situations like that, where it’s unexpected and sudden, they want to make sure that everybody can go home that night feeling OK about what they did, knowing that they did everything. And after an hour, he stops, turns to the room and asks: Does anyone have a problem with us stopping?

I didn’t have a problem, but then as he’s saying that, I look out the window, and the patient’s wife is just watching us. She’s been sitting out there watching us for an hour, and no one’s saying anything.

And I ask them to keep going.

So we did. We went almost for another hour after that, and we didn’t get the patient back. He ended up dying.

But I think for me, that was important — to keep going. Not because we thought we would get them back, but so that his wife would know that we did everything we could.

I still go to bed with her face kind of burned into my mind, of just seeing her sitting out there watching us, and that’s what kills me.

Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay home.


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