A Guest Blog From The ICU
I know it has been a while since I last wrote. I’ve been dealing with some legal problems which I may be writing about in the future but for now are all time consuming. I do have a half written blog about the resurgence of Covid-19 and the idiots who refuse to get vaccinated which may see the light of day after my court deadline on Friday. But for now I want to share this blog from an Intensive Care Unit nurse which was posted on Twitter. It is brilliantly written and heart rendering. Please read.
I became an ICU nurse at the end of July in 2020, during one of the first peaks of Covid when it was all still so new. I learned how to be a nurse behind a respirator and a yellow gown, amidst the constant beeping and hissing of ventilators that couldn’t support failing lungs. Because I was so new, I had no baseline for what normal nursing looked like; I just had a vague sense that it couldn’t look like this. The unit was bleak and everything we did felt futile, and I realized at some point I felt more like a ferryman to death than anything else. Some people lived, if they never got to the point they needed Bipap. Most didn’t. By the time they came to us they were too sick, their lungs too shredded, kidneys already failing and blood already clotting and so often beyond the power we had to heal. I would watch, feeling helpless, as they would go from a nasal cannula to a Vapotherm to a Bipap, and then when their chests started heaving and they started sweating I knew with heavy dread that soon they would be intubated.
There are places we can’t call you back from. I got used to the death. I walled it off, pushed it down, and did my job. I advocated for death with dignity, with as much kindness and comfort as we can muster, and accepted very early on that we can’t save everyone.
And then numbers started going down. We went from 3 covid ICUs to 2, then 1. I started to see what it was like to be a nurse in pre-covid time and realized how many people normally survive. The things I did mattered, my actions actually saved lives – no longer was death my constant, silent companion. The more time I spent out of the covid unit, the more I realized exactly how bad it was; all the vents, the CRRT, the relentless march towards death that we could hold off for a time but never stop. Walking through the much smaller covid unit was like walking through a graveyard. It is so much worse, this time. We all have so much less to give. We are still bearing the fresh and heavy grief of the last year and trying to find somewhere to put all this anger.
But the patients don’t stop coming. And the anger doesn’t stop coming. Underneath that anger, I feel defeated. Nothing we do makes a difference. The world spins on, oblivious and belligerent, as we fight to save the tidal wave coming our way. With less staff, less resources, and a lot less of ourselves to give. I don’t know what to say that will make people listen. I wish I could snap so many people out of their selfish stupor but I can’t, so I get to watch instead as people learn the hard way; with a tube down your throat. With a “code blue, code blue!” and the crack of a sternum. With a three am phone call to your family, held by hands still trembling from the rounds of CPR, voice shaking, knowing that I am about to shatter someone’s world.
You learn the hard way and I see it through. I carry the weight of your choices and the pain they cause. It didn’t have to be like this.