(NEW YORK) — Health care professionals fighting coronavirus on the frontlines continue to push through unimaginable experiences, as hospital beds fill up and empty out before families have a chance to say goodbye, leaving nurses to take on the role of caretaker and mourner.
Michael Kouridakis, who has been an ICU nurse for 25 years, told Nightline co-anchor Juju Chang about a heart-wrenching FaceTime conversation with a patient’s wife just moments after he died.
“I used to joke you could only get PTSD if you have feelings. Even the most hardened practitioner — everybody cries at work. It’s just part of it now,” Kouridakis said.
“I had a 35-year-old patient die on me the other day with nothing significant in his medical history. This is a horrible, horrible disease,” he said. “People die alone now, and that’s unusual.”
The unidentified, previously healthy man, was Kouridakis’ first patient at the start of his shift and “had coded a couple of times during the day.”
The patient’s wife Rosa called asking to FaceTime her husband and Kouridakis told her “absolutely.”
“I straightened up the room and made sure he looked nice for the call. And the monitor started alarming. I looked up and his heart rate was dropping, his blood pressure was dropping and within just a minute or two he was almost gone,” he said.
“I just stopped what I was doing and I went with him and I talked to him. I said that his wife was thinking about him and I’d just spoken to her, you know, and that his family loved him and missed him,” Kouridakis recalled, holding back tears. “I just tried to say the things that I thought I might want to hear if it was me.”
He continued, “I just called her and let her know that he passed away. And she still wanted to FaceTime with him.”
“Then she handed the phone around and gave it to their son, a 10 or 12-year-old boy. That was hard,” Kouridakis added. “He just said, ‘Papi, Papi, please don’t leave me alone in this world.’ You know, that was it.”
“[I] hung up the phone and then did what I do, got him ready and then I got two more patients from the ER. The beds don’t stay empty for very long with this,” he said.
Kouridakis compared the emotional battle wounds of the ICU during this pandemic to fighting a war.
“I guess walking into combat, at least you know where the firing is coming from and you can shoot back. We walk into this without any weapons,” he explained.
While Kouridakis said the hospital he works at in New Jersey has a “pretty good” supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), he recognized that resources like the N95 masks dwindling around the country are vital in the fight to protect against COVID-19.
“The truth is, once your doctors and nurses die, you don’t stand a chance. If we die, you die,” he said. “And that is the truth.”
Kouridakis said, “there’s this added component now where we have to be not only the health care professional, we have to be the mourner as well. There’s no one to do it.”
“It’s a lot to ask,” he continued. “We do it because we always do what needs to be done. Everybody does.”
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