COVID Diary 6

The Covid patients are lonely.

Our gowns trap in body heat, the gloves are thinner than they were (we are out of the usual brand), the shields are disinfected with wipes you'd use on your kitchen counter (we are out of the hospital grade), the new masks collapse inward with each inhalation. Nurses are complaining of headaches and sore throats from the recycled, dry air.

But the patients are lonely.

I was sent to France during the war, they have buildings that run a city block, you have to see it if you can. What took you to England? Could I have my coffee heated up? May I have a blanket?

The hospital provides iPads to facilitate Zoom meetings with providers and families for critical care patients--it's a new department that has popped up--but on my unit, the patients typically are able to communicate on their own. With exceptions like those with dementia, our patients know what they're missing. The lack of visitors wears on them, and they brighten and become talkative when we enter the room.

You go and take a break! my veteran tells me once I have him safely seated onto the toilet. He doesn't understand that I'm supposed to move efficiently in his room. Though he means well, this "break" he's granted me--for I can't speed up his time on the toilet--means greater risk of exposure and a longer time on the brink of hyperventilation.

But once you're in a Covid room, you stay until you're done. At the direction of a staff member, you'll don and doff the PPE in the proper order, which takes time. So you stay until you've done everything. You remain within those walls but do not lean on them.

The room's television announces a boxing marathon for the following day. Eleven hours of legendary fights, culminating in the endurance event that is the Ali-Frazier trilogy. Boxers clinch to stop a punch but also to rest for the briefest of seconds. Relax and breathe, because for this moment, you can. In the next, much will be asked of you. As I wait on the man, I'm feeling trapped. The heat generated by the PPE is overwhelming. The heat in Manila--Ali-Frazier 3--ran to the triple digits and yet the fighters remained standing for 14 rounds. The Rumble in the Jungle saw 80 degrees and high humidity. Breathing is compromised. Energy is expended at an increased rate. I don't want this.

I had hit a breaking point earlier in the day--before talk of France, before I crossed through the hospital checkpoints. I can't go on, I thought, but kept walking toward the entrance. Eddie Futch threw in the towel to save the nearly blind Frazier moments before Ali might have quit, saying, "Sit down, son. It's all over, but no one will ever forget what you did here today."

Thank-you cards are posted in the break room--from Wisconsin, Ohio, California. Food donated from local individuals and businesses appear--pizza, sushi, pasta, chocolate.

"I'm just worried about all of you," said the woman in her 90s, shrugging off our concern for her condition.

Thought of my kids overwhelms me. I am no hero.

Unconscious, Tommy Hearns lies on the mat, arms and legs outstretched, his bony face appearing to smile. He has found rest. His lanky frame is carried out of the ring, a pieta.

Covid diary 5
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