Death in the time of COVID-19
By Dr. Raji Menon
COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire. There have been a few people who tested positive in Cornwall. Everything is shut down. The Hospice is not allowing more than one designated visitor per patient – and everybody who comes is screened. If anybody does report symptoms, they will be turned away.
Patients are not able to move out of their rooms freely. They can only go out with a staff member, if they want to smoke, and they have to go through the front door.
I visited Mrs. X every day. That day, she was in her chair, looking comfortable. But her face had a very deep, sad, pained look. After all the usual questions, I asked her what she was thinking, and she answered, “Just waiting”.
“For what?” I asked, knowing the answer, but I wanted her to say it her way, hoping that I would be able to come up with something that would make her feel better. I knew she was scared, knowing her end was near. Her only relative, her brother, was unable to come and see her for the last few days because he was feeling under the weather. I expressed my sorrow at the current situation and promised to visit her every day. I knew those words were woefully inadequate. (All my life, I had been told that I had the knack of saying the right thing in such circumstances – but in this case, I failed miserably.)
That was the last time I spoke to her.
The next day, I went in later than usual. She had taken a sudden turn for the worse. She was now unresponsive. She was comfortable, though. I went in to see her, and a member of the admin staff (an ex-nurse) was in the room holding her hand, speaking to her softly.
She died a few hours later.
On the one hand, I was heartbroken, because of the sadness I had seen in her large eyes. On the other hand, I was relieved that she did not die alone. She perhaps got more love from those caring angels than we have seen some patients receive from family members.