COVID-19 placed a drain on medical personnel we nurses didn’t see coming. We’ve managed infectious diseases before, handled cumbersome PPE, and even ventured into uncharted waters with a diagnosis we weren’t sure how to handle. But I must admit, the Monday morning when the COVID numbers at my hospital unit jumped into the double digits, and doubled again by the end of the week, pandemic seemed an appropriate word. I placed a call to my pregnant daughter, Anna, and told her that until I was no longer caring for these patients, it would be safest if I did not see them. My two-year-old granddaughter didn’t understand why she couldn’t go to Grandma’s.
On my way into work one morning a woman stopped me. “Can you get a message to my husband? I can’t go in, can I?” The eighty-something woman gripped her walker and seemed frantic. I recorded her message on my cell phone and left her on a nearby bench. Outside her husband’s hospital room, I grabbed a gown, shoe coverings, hair net, mask and face shield, and gloves. I put my cell phone in a clear plastic bag and prayed it wouldn’t obscure the picture too much. Her husband listened to the message as tears streamed down his face. He mouthed a thank-you through his nonrebreather.
I couldn’t do all the usual satisfying nurse things like hold his hand or give him a hug. Neither could I offer that to his wife. It felt so pathetic, holding up a cell phone in a plastic bag, hoping he could see her, hear her. Afterwards, I tramped back downstairs brushing past a coworker who asked if I was ok. I nodded a yes, but I meant no.
Outside, that sweet wife was waiting. At least I could tell her he heard her voice and seemed to know it was her. I swallowed hard, wrote my cell number down on a piece of paper and handed it to her. “Anytime you need to get a message to your husband, you call me. Anytime, ma’am. I will meet you here.”