This too shall pass

A grown man sobs into his handkerchief. I am telling him that we need to send him to a different hospital for a scan of his lungs. We don’t know why we can’t get him off the oxygen. He looks at me, tries to smile but tears begin to run down his face. I ask him what is wrong, why is he crying? But I know why. He is crying because he hasn’t seen his family for months. He is crying because his family has already lost two members to this virus; crying because we are sending him to a strange new place with new doctors and new nurses and he is comfortable and happy right here, where he is. He is crying because he is tired, his body is tired, his mind is tired, his spirit is tired. A grown man sobs into his handkerchief and all I can do is put my hand on his shoulder and tell him that it is going to be okay.

A quiet, gracious mother of three, appeared so strong at first; and she was. However, as she reaches week four of her illness; week four of oxygen therapy; of being too weak to help herself out of bed, and week four of watching other people come, get better and go home, I can see the strength slowly sapping away. She is withdrawn and silent, only mumbling a feeble “When will I go home?” when I ask her how she is. She smiles when she video-calls her family. Her face lights up. But then the call ends, an oxygen monitor gets placed back on her finger and the reality of her situation returns; the smile fades. “When will I go home?” she asks softly. She appeared so strong at first; and she is.

A middle-aged gentleman shows me pictures a six day old baby, bundled up warmly in pink blankets, tiny fists clenched next to her rosy cheeks. They are pictures of his newborn baby, whom he hasn’t had the chance to meet yet. She was born last week in the same hospital he was in before he came to us. His wife gave birth just a few wards down from his own; close enough to hear the cries. So close but oh so heart-breakingly far. He was not able to be at the birth or to see them thereafter. Then he was transferred to us and they were sent home. He is so proud. His eyes shine as he flicks through the images on his phone. Her name is Amy. But he hasn’t met her yet, not really. I can tell that he desperately wants to go home, to meet his baby girl. He is happy though, and he is patient. A six day old baby is out there somewhere, waiting to meet her father, who is bursting with pride while showing me pictures of her.

A young woman’s voice breaks on the other end of the line. I have just told her that her mother’s condition has gotten worse and there is not much more we can do for her. I tell her that we will make her comfortable; we will tell her that her family loves her; and we will take their place at her bedside. And when the time comes I will call and let them know that she is gone. I explain that they will not be able to see her or hold her hand or comfort her. I tell her that I am so sorry. They never got to say goodbye. I am so sorry. As I start to close the call, she stops me and says “Thank you doctor, thank you to all of you. Please look after yourselves. Be safe.” I just told her that her mother is going to die; that there is nothing I can do to help her; and she is thanking me. Her mother is dying and she is thanking me and making sure I am taking care of myself. This time my voice breaks; “I am so sorry.”

A man with a face full of sparkling white teeth beams as he leaves the hospital for the first time in weeks. He smiles, and he waves and while everyone cheers around him, he has eyes only for his family. He almost runs to the car. He just cannot wait to embrace them. He has been separated from them for too long. He explains that he was scared; he came to this warehouse-turned-hospital wondering if he would ever leave; and missing his family was the most difficult part. More difficult than being unable to breath; more difficult than the fear of dying, was the social isolation. Now a man with a face full of sparkling white teeth reunites with his family and gives us all hope that everything will be okay. Andra tutto bene. This too shall pass.

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