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COVID-stories: the nursing home physician

Updated: Jul 8, 2020


After having worked on a COVID unit it feels strange to work ‘unprotected’ again. Being able to show my face, walking around in my own funny high-heeled shoes and using my bare hands used to be so natural, but almost seems artificial now. How I have missed all the things that were so normal. As professional caregivers we have particularly missed (and are still missing) the way we want to provide care: in close contact with our patients and their loved ones. And all the relatives and friends of our patients must have missed that too! Luckily things are getting better and we are counting our blessings every day.

Last Sunday, early in the morning, I was asked to visit a terminally ill patient with end stage dementia. I went to see him on the ward where recently more than half of the patients had died because of COVID. Last time I was on that ward, two months ago, all we could think of was COVID. Patients had trouble breathing or were in tremendous pain. Some patients were even more confused than they already were, while others became very quiet, too quiet. Their beloved relatives and friends couldn’t come to visit. I saw a patient die of COVID while his wife stood outside and watched him die too, through the window. There wasn’t enough time to put on all the protection gear needed so she just watched him from behind the window and I held his hand. It was the wrong way around, she should have been with him… But not this particular Sunday! I was the one watching from a distance now, while a clearly loved patient was held by his wife during his final breaths. We all cherish these moments and it makes us realize that, in the end, that’s all that matters.

This nursing home physician works at a health care organization in the Netherlands. She has asked to remain anonymous. The geriatric wards closed their doors as a consequence of COVID early March. Visitors weren’t allowed, volunteers and trainees couldn’t come either and there were outbreaks of COVID on many wards in nursing homes. Patients were kept in their rooms and all shared activities (including shared meals) were cancelled. Since early June lock down has been gradually lifted and the new normal was announced.

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