Heartbreaking
Nurse shares painful story of COVID-19 patient who died in her care
Associate Clinical Psychologist Keisha Bowla-Hines (right) comforts Nurse Sophia Francis as she shares one of her most heartbreaking experiences while working with COVID-19 patients. Both were guests at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange last week. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

THE pain was so palpable that Sophia Francis broke down in tears while sharing her most heart-rending experience working with COVID-19 patients a man in her care died after she tried to improve his oxygen levels.

Francis, a nurse at National Chest Hospital, was among six health-care workers who shared their experiences during the pandemic at last week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange ahead of the start of Healthcare Workers Appreciation Month.

She said the ordeal, which occurred during the period of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 in 2021, lasted for approximately two hours.

“There are so many experiences, but I remember this one particular patient. When he came on the ward he was asymptomatic, had no shortness of breath, and I was the one admitting him. He was so fearful,” she said.

“When I checked his oxygen saturation it was in the 70s and the norm is usually from 95 to 100. I had the oxygen saturation machine on his hand for a while and he was looking at me and you could see the fear in his eyes,” said Francis before pausing as she tried to hold back the tears. Associate Clinical Psychologist Keisha Bowla-Hines, who was seated next to Francis, extended a comforting hand on the emotional nurse’s shoulder.

Francis said she began upgrading the patient’s oxygen treatment as his oxygen levels were getting worse.

“In that moment I had to put him on oxygen and I had to be switching between oxygen therapy because I started him on face mask, and then I had to switch him to a non-rebreather bag, and then in no time the Airvo 2 [high-flow nasal cannula machine] — that’s the highest oxygen that we can give,” Francis said before breaking down a second time.

“That patient …he did not make it. He died that same day. It was so heartbreaking. It was hard. That one really touched me,” she said.

After regaining her composure Francis shared other sad stories.

She recalled working on the night shift when two patients passed away. It was tough witnessing the reaction of the relatives to the sad news.

“I also remember there was another instance where I was on the night shift and two patients passed on that night, and in the morning we started our medication rounds and the doctor would have called the relatives and tell them to come to the hospital, because that’s the protocol,” she said.

“I was at one of the patients’ bed and then apparently the relative came and she screamed so hard my eyes were filled with tears, and I had to move away from that patient’s bedside and go on the verandah and just take a breather. It was depressing,” she added.

Francis also recalled witnessing a young man seeing his mother die. The experience, she said, “reached my soul”.

Even though those experiences were depressing, Francis said she and her co-workers had to offer support to each other.

“We had to pull through it and you just have to remember that our colleagues are there and they need the help. Sometimes you want to call in. Sometimes you don’t want to go to work because it is so much to deal with on a daily basis,” she said.

However, the nurses indicated that they felt some amount of relief and happiness when patients were discharged. “Also, when a patient looks at you and say ‘Nurse, thank you so much. I see that you are working hard.’ But, prayer really works,” she said.

BY BRITTNY HUTCHINSON Observer staff reporter hutchinsonb@jamaicaobserver.com

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