A lifelong friend lay dying of COVID-19 in her intensive care unit

After her nursing shift, Maureen sat with him, held his hand and played voice messages she had collected from family throughout the day.

Maureen Loftus, R.N., saw her childhood neighbor lying in the intensive care unit (ICU). His eyes were closed. A ventilator helped him with the breath that COVID-19 had taken away.

He was alone in the room.

“I honestly think that might have been one of the only times I had seen him without his wife by his side,” said Maureen, an ICU nurse at Norton Audubon Hospital.

Throughout Maureen’s friend’s stay, ICU staff led by the patient’s primary nurse, Destinee Rein, R.N., made calls to the patient’s family multiple times each day to keep them updated on his condition. Staff members hung pictures in his room to ensure he was surrounded by familiar faces.

When his condition began to worsen, Destinee reached out to his family to break the news.

“The family asked one thing, that we not let the patient die alone,” Destinee said.

After her shift, Maureen sat with him, held his hand and played voice messages she had collected from family throughout the day.

“I don’t know if I necessarily thought that it was important for me to be there; it was just the right thing to do,” Maureen said. “He needed support at a time when his family was unable to provide it for him, and his family needed peace at a time when they could not be with their loved one.”

The patient was admitted Tuesday, March 17, with COVID-19 and moved to the ICU on Friday, March 20. His wife likely had been exposed to the virus while caring for him at home and chose to stay in isolation to protect his health care providers and others. The rest of his large family also made the difficult decision to put safety first.

“It made my heart sink,” Maureen said. “I would never have imagined that the first person I would see this virus take would be someone I had known my entire life.”

According to Kristen Wieder, R.N., nurse manager on the unit, the requirement to restrict visitors during the COVID-19 outbreak has added a new and unexpected emotional component to the crisis.

“What we are doing is hard, but what these families are going through is so much harder,” Kristen said. “This patient really brought the gravity of our current situation home to many of us in the ICU.”

‘A greater sense of purpose’

Norton Healthcare’s policy generally prohibits visitors during the coronavirus pandemic to help contain the virus, but it allows up to two visitors during end-of-life care. Families like that of Maureen’s friend had to make the difficult decision about being with their loved one during this serious time or risk exposing themselves or staff to COVID-19.

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Uncertainties about the timeline for the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing demands on health care facilities, caregivers and communities add to stress. Despite the added pressures of providing care at this unprecedented time, hospital staff members continue to step up for patients, their families and one another.

“Every day is a new dose of perspective. It’s provided an even greater sense of purpose to what we are doing, even in the midst of so much uncertainty,” Kristen said.

Courage comes from purpose — in this case caring for patients and their families during a horrifying time.

“There will be so many more patients and families who will need a hand to hold or a consoling phone call. It isn’t going to be easy, but there’s no other team that I’d rather take on this challenge with,” Maureen said.

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