Alarms sounding, people talking, and I pick up the phone to hear your name for the first time.
The nurse on the line asks to come up, frustration in her voice, but I won’t give up hope.
We meet for the first time; I see the fear in your eyes. Under all this plastic and shield, I hold your hand in an attempt to make this more human and less cold.
So many things begin to happen, all that you could have anticipated, all is much worse.
Painful procedures, so much information, so many signatures, so much discomfort. All you ask for is water, and the answer is, “Sorry, nothing by mouth right now.” You smile and comfort me by telling me, “It’s okay.”
I explain that you will have to lay on your stomach, and you tell me of your surgeries and how painful that would be. All I can do is tell you that this needs to be done and place a mask on your face. Your high fever makes the move even more painful, and you begin to cough uncontrollably into your mask.
We did it! Pillows, gels, air mattress — you are on your belly, and you begin to cry; I hold your hand again, and you ask me to pray; I tell myself not to cry and to be your rock.
I begin to pray for your condition to improve and for God to guide us in your care. You are thankful, and my voice breaks.
I won’t give up hope. I will give my all.
Time for me to exit your room: I leave your bed facing the door, I teach you how to use devices you are unfamiliar with, I ask if you want to call your family. You hesitate because you don’t want them to worry. I wonder how to tell you that you should call them; this could be your last chance.
I ask again, and you agree to call. I hear your spouse crying as I exit the room. After peeling off all the layers, I stand outside your room and wave and smile at you under my mask in an attempt to show you that you are not alone.
I call you to let you know that my shift is over and that I will be back in the morning. You shower me with blessings and tell me to stay safe until we meet again.
Driving home with the windows down in silence with my thoughts, I wonder what the night might bring for you. I begin to cry: I don’t want you to take a turn for the worse. I wonder about your family, about your thoughts.
We meet again, and this time your condition is much worse. You can hardly stay awake, and you are battling the toughest battle of your life. You don’t know I am entering your room. I pray for you. I still won’t give up hope.
I hold your hand and feel life escaping your body and tell you to keep fighting, that we are in this battle with you and that we must meet again.
The day brought much chaos and despair, but then your therapy begins to work, and there’s a ray of hope in your fate. The ray of hope is quickly overshadowed by a long journey of much frustration and despair; we are doing all we can just as you wished because you want to see your family again.
The last words you spoke to me were: “I want to go home.”
Your life escaping, we try until the options have run out. I guide your wife and daughter to the hallway where they must stand away from you, and I watch them cry.
My heart hurts, and your daughter turns toward me and asks for a hug; I gently explain that I should not hug her to prevent contagion.
She looks at me and thanks me. She has your same exact eyes, the eyes I have been looking at for the last month, the eyes that cried for her and the same eyes I saw life escaping from. I tell her that I want to hug her, and she says, “It’s okay.”
I know you are in a better place now, and I wonder if you know that you will stay with me in my thoughts until we meet again.
Sonia Nikolaus is an intensive-care-unit nurse at Ventura County Medical Center.
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