Coping when a loved one has COVID-19
As a family, we decided early on that we would isolate our parents due to their age and co-morbidities. My father, a very active, fit, independent 81-year old passed his time by gardening and dabbling (badly) in DIY. A few days later, he developed a cough and runny nose with a high temperature. The moment I heard this my heart sank, and I immediately had a terrible feeling. The cough then became persistent, he lost his sense of taste, smell and appetite, became breathless and lethargic whilst spiking high temperatures. I knew my father had contracted COVID-19.
I immediately arranged for him to be admitted to the acute medical ward in our hospital, and it was at this point that the subject of resuscitation was bought up. This was the first time anyone had ever asked me whether this active, independent, patriarchal figure should be considered for resuscitation. How could I make this decision? Dad was mowing the lawn a few days ago, and now I was being asked whether it was appropriate to resuscitate him in the event of a cardiac arrest. This was the second most difficult decision of my life.
By that evening Dad was admitted to HDU, and the following morning he improved a little so we were able to make video calls with the rest of the family. This was invaluable. It was the first time since admission that they were able to see and speak to him, and know that he was okay.
By the morning of day four, my father had spent the past 24 hours on CPAP and required 100% oxygen. He was unable to speak, drink, eat, sleep or get out of bed. He was tiring and I could see that he was struggling and seemed to have lost his fighting spirit. The consultant showed me his worsening chest X-ray, and conveyed his deteriorating condition. We both agreed that despite being on maximal therapy he was continuing to deteriorate, and so came the most difficult decision of my life…
I have never cried so much. I had to be strong for my father and family, yet I was an emotional wreck. I called my siblings and mother and told them that Dad’s condition was deteriorating rapidly and arranged video calls with them all. This was so hard; this would be the last time they spoke to Dad. We all cried and cried. Dad had tears running down his face, he knew what was coming. “We love you Daddy, you are the most amazing husband, father and grandfather.” I will always remember those words repeatedly said by my brother and sister. After the calls were over the nurse made my father comfortable by increasing his sedation and soon after he passed away peacefully. I could not let go of his hand, I couldn’t even wipe the tears from my face as I was wearing full PPE, I couldn’t even kiss my father goodbye. A week ago, Dad was being Dad, now he was no longer with us.
I have been affected in the worst possible way by the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t think the reality of what has happened will sink in until this is all over, whenever that is. I have received amazing support from my family, friends, department and anaesthetic, surgical and nursing colleagues; all of which has helped me enormously. I feel extremely fortunate to have been by my father’s side until he passed away. This is not the case for most of our patients, so it is us, the NHS staff, that have to be their families. Please also remember to look after yourselves, your loved ones and your colleagues during these unique and challenging times; the emotional and physical burden on us all must not be underestimated.
Dad, we all love you, you were an amazing husband, father and grandfather. May you rest in peace.
Consultant Anaesthetist, Clinical Lead for Theatres, Anaesthetics and Perioperative Medicine
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London