It can be so easy to get caught up in the sadness and anxiety occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably, we are going through a rough time, whether the virus has touched us personally or not.
Yet, the people who have had to confront it the most–healthcare workers, nurses and doctors–are the ones who have taken the brunt of the psychological trauma it might occasion. Yet, recently, one ER physician shared a touching story as a reminder there’s still hope, even when everything around them may feel so bleak.
Her patient was in a critical condition
Dr. Halleh Akbarnia shared a story about a COVID-19 patient on Facebook this week.
“I’m used to the daily grind of heart attacks, gunshots, strokes, flu, traumas, and more. It’s par for the course in my field,” she wrote. “Yet nothing has made me feel the way I do about my ‘job’ as this pandemic has—that knot-in-the-pit–of-your-stomach sensation while heading into work, comforted only by the empathetic faces of my colleagues who are going through the same.”
The veteran doctor then shared her experience with one specific patient, “Mr. C,” a retired teacher from Illinois. Her encounter with him would stay with her forever.
When Mr.C first showed up, he had all the classical symptoms of Covid-19–“low oxygen levels” and “gasping breath” as well as the x-ray results. Even through the struggle caused by his symptoms, Mr. C was “the nicest man I had met in a long time.”
He kept asking if we needed anything, and that it would all be okay. He told us he was a teacher but that he was learning so much from us, and how much he respected what we were doing.Dr. Halleh Akbarnia
Mr. C’s condition was not looking good. He was in a low oxygen state and intubation seemed imminent. “His levels kept falling and despite all our best efforts, it was time to put him on the ventilator,” she shared.
When told her would be put on ventilator, Mr. C “didn’t feel great about this” but his next words truly touched Dr. Akbarnia.
Doc, I trust you and am putting myself in your hands.
The intubation was difficult. In fact, she shares that he “nearly left us a few times during those first minutes, but he kept coming back.” They were determined to keep him alive.
His trust overwhelmed her
Throughout the process of intubation, Dr. Akbarnia was nervous and felt uneasy in the stomach. However, her patient’s incredible strength surprised her and helped her through it.
But he, with his teacher’s steady voice, kept me grounded, where I was supposed to be. I saw his eyes looking at me, seeing the kindness in them, even as we pushed the medications to put him to sleep.Dr. Halleh Akbarnia
Despite Mr. C’s trust, she feared for him. “I waited and watched his progress, knowing the statistics, and how sick he was when he got to us,” she shares. For the next 12 days, she watched his evolution.
He remembered her eyes
The doctors “did their magic” and Mr.C was extubated. Dr. Akbarnia decided to meet him again, in the COVID stepdown unit. He was alone, as nobody could visit him due to the strict preventative rules of isolation. His wife had also been isolating a home for fourteen days.
My heart broke thinking of how that must have been for her. I cautiously went into his room, donned in my PPE, and when he saw me, he stopped for a second. A moment of recognition.Dr. Akbarnia
Dr. Akbarnia didn’t think he would remember her, considering his condition when she first saw him and her protective equipment. But Mr. C did remember her. When she introduced herself, telling him “I was the last person you saw in the ER,” Mr. C started crying.
“I remember your eyes.”Mr.C to Dr. Akbarnia
She was so moved that she started to cry too. For her, Mr. C made her realize “that we do what we do exactly for people like him, for moments like these.” Not only that, but it was a calming moment in the midst of a storm.
His strength, his kindness, his calming words to me meant everything. At that moment, my heart (which had been beating over 100 bpm since this pandemic began) finally slowed down.Dr. Akbarnia
The value of human connection
Little did Mr. C know that he would have such an impact on Dr. Akbarnia. While healthcare workers are pushing hard to save lives, patients like Mr. C are also heroes. Without knowing, they have a lasting impact on our helpers.
I sat down and we talked. I told him that while he is here, we are his family. He will always have a place in my heart. And whether he knows it or not, he will be my silent warrior and guide as I take care of every patient, COVID or not. He will fuel me until the day I hang up my stethoscope.Dr. Akbarnia
Those moments of human connection may feel or seem small on the large scale but they make such a big deal on the one-on-one human level. As Dr. Akbarnia told TODAY, “Physicians are people, too. We’re vulnerable, too.”
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