In Response to: Dispatches From a Pandemic [6]

I saw your series, “Dispatches From a Pandemic” (May 13), and wanted to contribute this brief piece written during a particularly challenging week in April at Massachusetts General Hospital:

This week, I spent my days with patients who wouldn’t wake up. We patted. We prodded. We rubbed. We yelled. “Can you hear me?” Their lungs survived COVID’s rampage. Their ventilators weaned low, their sedation finally shut off. Their minds, however, failed to reignite. It would take weeks to know if they ever would. Until then, we’d see squints or grimaces. They’re fleeting. We later see nothing.

This week, I spent my afternoons in devastation. Informing sheltered-away families about their lonely loved one’s day. Most weren’t getting better, or worse. They lived in a limbo of sustained slumber, able to breathe but not able to protect their windpipe. Explaining “Trach & PEG” by phone was a daily linguistic and emotional challenge I never want again. One patient’s sister asked, “Is he suffering?” I didn’t know how to answer.

This weekend, I await the parade of Zoom. One silver lining of COVID has been renewed connection with distant family and friends. They’ll ask how I am. I’ll deflect. I won’t tell about the nightmares, where I’m on the receiving end of those afternoon calls, being updated on them. The thought too grave for my imagination to bear. I wake up, sweating.