Editor’s note: This is a story of a Covid-19 death which moves us because it shows love can mitigate the negativity of dying …. like the beauty of wind-downed daffodils which still shines pure and cheerful .
by Zhang Yuan，Seattle, WA
Washington State has become the epicenter of COVID-19 in the USA. As of March 20th, there were eighty-three deaths. One of them was my patient.
He was ninety-two years old.
I actually did not know him that well. All I knew about him at Tuesday night sign-out was “92yo with PMH of cva, ckd came in with COVID- 19 pneumonia 1 week ago. He wasn’t doing too well. Was on high flow O2. Didn’t tolerate antiviral. But on Tuesday, apparently did better, even ate something”.
My partner even mentioned that he was very depressed. Due to the hospital’s “no visitors allowed” policy he and his wife were not able to see each other even though they FaceTimed each other every day. And his wife had been calling begging to see him every day, willing to be quarantined with him in his room.
Shortly after I started working Wednesday morning, RRT (rapid response team) was called. He became more hypoxic and not responsive anymore. CXR (chest x-rays) showed worsening infiltrate.
I asked the nurse for the telephone number to talk to the family and was surprised to find out they had been waiting outside of the hospital. Apparently, she called in the morning and found out he was not doing well so she decided to come anyway regardless of the hospital’s policy. We quickly got permission from the hospital administrator to let them in.
Soon after, I saw her, a petite elderly woman, hair neatly groomed, walking with a straight back. I explained to her what happened and asked for direction of further care. She cried but answered firmly that they were not going to escalate care. She wanted him to be comfortable and her only other request was to be with him.
She did not leave his bedside for the next two days. The nursing staff made a temporary bed for her in his room. But every time I passed his room, through the window I saw her in the same position, sitting by his bedside, holding his hand, leaning towards him as if she was whispering into his ear.
When I rounded on him the second day, I found her in the same position. He had been on morphine drip, was very comfortable but not responding at all. I asked how she was doing, and we chatted for a while.
She went on to tell me that they were originally from Kentucky. They had been married for nearly seventy-three years. They were both dancers. They sang and danced throughout the country before finally settling in Washington. They had been very lucky to have a good life together even though they had been through some rough times including losing their son. They square-danced into their 80s before he suffered a minor stroke. Even then, they would walk together in the neighborhood every day.
A couple of weeks ago, when she fell ill first, he was still walking the neighborhood. But as she recovered, he became ill. He became so ill he was admitted to the hospital.
They had not been separated for this long for a long, long time. She told me she had been talking to him, singing to him. She wished she could have seen him earlier when he was still lucid so that he could hear her. When I told her that he probably still can hear her, she agreed eagerly with a big smile. “I can feel his fingers moving occasionally trying to squeeze my hand.” The excitement and happiness on her face when she said that almost makes me wonder if that is how she felt when he first held her hands when they were teenagers.
The warm winter sun shone through the window. His bedside table was full of pictures of them smiling. Hearing their life stories, feeling the love between them, tears swelled up my eyes……
He did not make it to my rounds the next day. He passed away peacefully with his wife and both of their children at bedside.
While death is always sad, the process of dying can be so beautiful with love.