A Doctor’s Diary: Covid-19 is a devastating illness in more ways than one

(The fourth installment of a special Efe series featuring the first-hand account of pediatric surgeon Colleen Fitzpatrick, who offered her support to an ICU for adults at a community hospital outside New York City, the global epicenter of the coronavirus)

New York, May 8 (efe-epa).- The epicenter of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in the United States continues to be New York state, where there have been more than 320,000 confirmed cases and some 26,000 deaths.

The magnitude of these numbers makes it easy to forget that each death is a person and each person has a family.

But since arriving from Missouri and starting to work at Long Island’s Syosset Hospital outside New York City, I have been thrust into this cold reality and faced the inevitable task of informing devastated family members by phone when the coronavirus has won the battle.

One of the hardest things to witness is how the families of our patients are impacted by this disease, especially since no visitors are currently allowed at the hospital and patients are isolated from their families.

For patients not on ventilators, they can still use their phones and take advantage of technology like FaceTime and Zoom. But for patients on ventilators the only connection to their family is what is communicated by the staff in the unit.

Families are worried and scared, and while they are universally appreciative of the staff in the unit it is often times difficult for the staff to keep up with all of the phone calls, or to devote the amount of time to a conversation that both family and staff would like.

We are also asking families to make decisions about things that, for the most part, are completely foreign to them. At times, we are asking families to make difficult end-of-life decisions.

There is also a great deal of information and misinformation being circulated in the news and on social media, making some of this decision-making even harder.

Even under the best of circumstances these are difficult conversations, but they are conversations we have in person after the family has witnessed firsthand all their loved one has endured.

Now we are having these conversations on the phone, where the families’ only connection to their loved one has been via telephone through an intermediary.

Calling to tell a family that someone has died feels very empty. When the phone is ringing, you have a sense that the family is hoping against hope that you are just calling with an update or perhaps some good news, but deep inside knowing why you are really calling.

Due to the pandemic (of which New York is now the global epicenter), those who lose a loved one must face not only the pain of death but also an amplified sense of loss because of social distancing.

Here will be no funeral – religious or otherwise -, no gathering of friends and family to celebrate the life of someone lost, no closure. EFE-EPA


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