We are in a deep struggle, as we all face the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. There is an eagerness to get out beyond the bounds of our house. I feel it at times too. Some people are defying stay at home orders, and even some states, like Georgia, are re-opening un-essential businesses like hair salons and bowling alleys. Most of us accept that getting out endangers ourselves and others, but it is tough when we can’t see the enemy who has our globe in its mighty and still controlling grip. I think that when you can’t see the enemy, it helps to look more closely. I know we have to decide when and how much bad news to read for our own sanity, so beware: this account can be brutal. But I think it is valuable to go inside a hospital, for those of us not living in that reality on a daily basis. It reminds me that being patient and continuing to narrow my comings and goings is a service I can do in a time when most of us can’t do much.
I came upon a post from Dr. Jason Hill, working in the emergency room with Covid. Here are some excerpts from his daily journal.*
“The eyes stay with you. In peacetime most of those we intubate are chronically ill, or profoundly confused, or unconscious and unaware of the world around them. Covid has changed the equation. Most of my patients now remain awake and alert until the end. These days the ER is permeated with frank conversations about death and dying. It is a hard thing to tell a healthy and functional person who felt fine and well six days ago that they might be dead in a day or two…
For those I intubate, those who choose intubation, I find myself having a final stare. After all the words are spoken, the decisions made…there is a final stare. It is a stare of intention. It is a moment of humanity. It is a shared space, a hallowed space, the final moment of someone’s awareness, possibly forever. It is a space where fear and hope mingle, where autonomy fades into trust, uncertainty into acceptance, and all they have left is placed firmly in your gloved hands. It’s brief, and you’re busy, and time is essential, but you find a few seconds to share this final breath. That stare lasts a moment. That stare lasts a lifetime. And the eyes stay with you.
I see them often in my mind, and although haunting I am glad to keep them with me. I warm my hands on the raw humanity inherent in such moments and they empower me to carry on.”
This first-hand account from inside the hospital stayed with me on my walk yesterday. I felt my feet crunch the leaves as I looked up and watched the towering eucalyptus trees sway gently in the breeze. A hawk circled slowly above me, overseeing his territory. He screeched out a warning that I not bother his nest. Like Dr. Hill, he wants us to hear the agony, so we pay attention to how real the threat is. In my head I kept hearing, “The eyes stay with you.” I watch a rust colored house finch find a long twig in the grass and fly back to his nest. He disappears into the thick of a bushy tree. I can’t see his nest, but he will build it for safety and security and guard it with his life. This glimpse into the hospital was like peeking into a nest of fragile beings. We are all fragile and need to know that we are just one with nature and must bend humbly to the power of the beast, or more of us will die.
* The entries for the doctor's journal were shared by a writer colleague of mine, Lauren Cross.