The evening of December 14, 2020, we (health care staff) found out that starting December 15, no visitors would be allowed into the hospital. As a nursing assistant, here I reflect on the experience of patients, their families and health care workers in the first few days after loved ones were removed from the hospital setting.
There are fewer flowers in the hospital rooms now.
The ones sent to room 22
have been taken out.
They are at the nurses’ station because Ms. L couldn’t bear the smell
of her favorite flowers now that she can’t eat.
I doubt she’ll tell you.
She wants you to think
she is alright
she hasn’t been able to take any walks out of bed or sips of water and jello and broth
like she did when you were still at her side.
I miss the pictures in room 26.
Not just because it allows me to imagine Mr. J’s life
with family, friends, a voice and working limbs, but because your voice and photos
might be enough to bring him back.
We, the healthcare team, can talk at him,
but we can’t know
the movies to play again
the teddy bear or blankets he might like
the names he knows
the memories and words potentially buried deep down.
He can’t tell us.
When room 2, Mrs. P with the trach, presses the call button, I don my gown to read her lips: “JIMJIMJIM.”
Jim, I miss your visits with Mrs. P, too.
the huge smile you bring to Mrs. P’s face,
the fear that gets erased
because you make this confining room feel cozy, safe.
All I can do
is put lotion on her hands,
CarMax on her lips.
“You are so brave, and I am sorry I can’t do more to help you.”
Within minutes, she presses the call button again.
I don my gown as I watch flailing limbs
gesturing wildly. I approach to read:
“What do you need help with?”
“How can I help?”
I am at a loss as well
but the worst is knowing the only way I can help you is by leaving:
leaving to find someone else
who might be able to offer medicine,
or something more.
I miss the reminder that when patients leave the hospital, someone —
those loved ones who came to visit —
will be with them.
Now, as a nursing assistant, I face 4 a.m. conversations in hospital rooms
to converse about care, quality of life, death.
I truly don’t know what is the better option,
if, there is a better option.
In former times,
family could sit together
to discuss options, roles, the future.
Now, we are here, two strangers,
a new family of sorts,
left to make decisions in the dark.
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