Wife Didn't Visit Husband Dying from Coronavirus to Save Masks for Hospital, Nurse Says
As a cardiac ICU nurse, Blaire Guidry is used to looking out for the families of her patients.
So when the wife of a patient dying of coronavirus opted not to pay her husband a visit so as to conserve the rapidly dwindling supply of protective medical equipment, the roles were reversed.
“She could have come — if it’s end of life and we’re turning off machines, the spouse and immediate children are allowed,” Guidry, 26, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “But she knew she would have to be masked if she came, and she didn’t want to take away a mask, knowing how much we need that equipment.”
“It was just so selfless it made me cry,” she adds. “I’m not a crier, and I’m just crying every day.”
The elderly man was Guidry’s first coronavirus patient at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, which has seen a surge in coronavirus patients in recent weeks.
“He was in his 70s and not doing well. His wife called me every day and said that she didn’t know what to do with herself — she was just sitting there at home, crying,” she says. “He passed away.”
Guidry says her hospital’s entire ICU is made up of coronavirus patients, and that equipment is in short supply, with frontline workers being told to re-use their N95 masks and re-wear their protective gowns.
“Our unit has the highest mortality rate in the hospital. But this seems like a different kind of death — just sad and emotionally exhausting,” she says. “Patients not being able to have any family with them is very, very hard, because we take care of the families too. Now they can only call us, crying.”
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That exhaustion is a feeling shared by Jaime McElmon, a critical care nurse at Sutter Health Hospital in San Francisco. McElmon tells PEOPLE that he and his coworkers have been plagued by a looming sense of fear as they report to work each day.
“I’ve been a nurse a long time, always in critical care. I’ve had patients punch me or throw urine bottles at me,” he says. “This is a different fear. Because this was unexpected. No one was prepared for this.”
McElmon, 40, says his hospital has been rationing supplies as they brace for a surge in patients, and that because of low supplies, he’s had to wear a mask for more than one day.
“Patients know we are in fear now—the rationing of supplies, some of us wearing trash bags [because there aren’t enough sterile gowns],” he says, referencing other hospitals who have had to resort to those measures. “Loved ones dropping loved ones off in the ER, and they can’t come in. But I have to show up and do my job.”
The number of cases in the United States continues to climb as states implement various lockdown orders and encourage social distancing, with more than 205,172 cases and nearly 4,540 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, according to The New York Times.
- Reporting by CAITLIN KEATING and JASON SHEELER
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