Due to quarantine regulations, patients who succumb to COVID-19 often die alone
Under normal circumstances, a hospital patient facing a procedure would see one or more of their loved ones, feel them squeeze their hand, and whisper words of encouragement before medical professionals administer anesthesia.
But with the spread of COVID-19, circumstances are anything but normal. Across the nation, patients report being separated from their spouses and children while facing serious medical procedures.
These much-needed rules regarding social distancing and quarantine are especially essential when a patient is diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
But should such a patient's health deteriorate to the point that they are on the verge of dying, in the hurried moments before they're intubated, sedated, and placed on a ventilator, their family is not physically present.
The Advocate reports that in those moments, medical personnel are not only scrambling to assist the patient but are trying to set-up phone calls and video chats with the patient's family so they can say their goodbyes, potentially for the last time.
"The patients usually try and get words out but they can't. They're just gasping for air," said an ICU nurse at Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge. "They can't even say 'I love you'."
Some Louisiana hospitals, including those run by Ochsner Health System, say they're making exceptions to strict quarantine rules on a case-by-case basis, thus allowing some dying patients to see visitors in-person.
But in most cases, patients must rely on video-conferencing technology to see their friends and family.
One nurse at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson Parish notes that many patients with COVID-19 become fatally ill so quickly that by the time the hospital has a chance to notify the next of kin, the patient may have already died.
The health system’s chief nursing officer, Tracey Moffatt, said Ochsner staff does everything possible to attend to patients in need of palliative care, including tracking down loved ones.
“We had a patient that was actively dying and the only living relative this man had was a son in California,” Moffatt said. “Nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists sat at the bedside, set up a Zoom meeting with the patient’s son and they were all able to be with the patient as he passed.
This is the kind of response we’re providing to the patients at the end of life. No patient dies alone at Ochsner, I promise you.”
Robert Hart, chief medical officer at Ochsner Health System, said Thursday that they are still aiming to bring in family, if possible.
“If there’s an end-of-life situation, we have family coming in,” he said.
In the face of such unsettling circumstances, most south Louisiana hospitals are doing all they can to care for the fatally ill, both physically and emotionally.
Tulane Health System and Our Lady of the Lake, for example, are allowing priests — wearing appropriate personal protective equipment — to administer last rites, if requested by the family. Baton Rouge General is conducting chaplain visits over the phone and allowing hospital staff to assist with the last rites.
If the family is too far away, sometimes it’s the nurses who attend to the dying. They hold patients' hands, and some said they have prayed for the patients.
“They’re still going into the room — knowing that they’re Catholic because it says that on their chart — and saying, ‘please God, take care of this patient’,” one nurse said.
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