Always in Our Hearts: A Letter to Those We’ve Lost

#intraining #globalhealth

Every New Year’s Eve, I crack out a few board games to ring in the impending year. Sometimes, there are party hats, sometimes fancy cheese, occasionally a hint of champagne. Always, there are loved ones to hug and cheer with when the clock strikes midnight. This year, we kept it simple. I got tested for COVID-19 and secluded myself as best as possible, scrutinizing any coughs or sneezes that could be the beginning of something much worse.

We pulled out a board game, played for a half hour, and watched the ball drop on television in a relatively empty Times Square in New York City. The same songs play at midnight every year, but something was different this January 1st. After all, how could people welcome 2021 with pure unabashed joy while still mourning the loved ones lost to 2020? A lone tear rolled down my cheek, as I mourned with them.

In the past year, I have seen more body bags zipped than I ever imagined I would in my career. I’ve felt more helpless than I ever thought I would, intubating patients and wondering if they would ever spontaneously breathe again. I’ve admitted so many people to the hospital with no idea if they’d ever leave or see their families again.

In my medical brain, 2020 was the year of COVID-19, but in my soul, 2020 will always be the year of loss.

To the middle-aged woman who passed despite having few health ailments before contracting COVID, I wish I knew how to explain how that happened to you. To the undomiciled man who made the ED his home and saw us — his doctors, nurses, and other providers — as his family, we’ll always remember you. Heck, we had a memorial for you.

To the man in the ICU who appeared to be getting better until things took a turn for the worse: I held your daughter’s hand and sat with her as you breathed your last. Her visitor’s sticker was on your chest as she had requested before we removed your endotracheal tube. She wanted to be close to your heart at the end and be with you for as long as she could beyond that point as well.

To the young gentleman just starting out his life, whose soul was prematurely snatched from his body, I wish we had been able to keep you alive after we brought you back. We didn’t have any deep conversations, but speaking with you briefly, I know your mother would have been proud of the man you had become before it was your time to go.

Thank you all for affording me and my colleagues the privilege of caring for you; we know 2021 won’t be the same without your laugh, your smile, and your conversation. This year, we’ll do our best to see this pandemic through so that 2022 can be celebrated with fewer tears and perhaps even a bit more cheer.

Sincerely: Pavitra, MD

This piece is written on behalf of the physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers who have bravely stood in the line of fire during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is written in memory of the 1.89 million global citizens we have lost so far to this illness and dedicated to their loved ones, who have been forced to accept a blank space on their Christmas photos or an empty chair at their dinner tables. This pandemic is not a political issue, it’s a public health issue. Let’s work together to end it once and for all.

Pavitra P. Krishnamani is an EM resident physician with a background in global health interested in innovating how we deliver healthcare to our patients at home and abroad. To learn more about her and her work, check out her website.

*Publish dates for articles discussing patient encounters are disparate from when the encounter actually occurred in order to protect patient privacy. Names, ages, and other encounter details are also modified to protect patient privacy.

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