By Nurse Rachel Valentino
This week we have hope. This vaccine is our final hope to save lives.
A lot of people say, “Bless you health care workers for saving patients’ lives.” This pandemic hasn’t felt “life-saving.” The majority of our work in the intensive care unit (ICU) is surrounded by death, not life. Our patients are artificially alive: on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT), ventilators, nitric oxide, vasopressors, and sedation medication and their numbers are yet still incompatible with life.
Our patients reach “new normals.” An oxygen level of 50 on an Arterial Blood Gas and we are rejoicing. A carbon dioxide level of 60 or below. Normal numbers should be 100 and 35, respectively. We fight for our patients everyday, to the point where we are faced with the question: are we doing more harm than good? That guilt eats at us—us being the perpetrators of their pain. The look in their eyes will break your heart. Their eyes tell us “Help me. Make it stop. Just let me rest. I don’t want to fight anymore.”
We know they are suffering through an unimaginable “life” in the ICU. A walk through the unit shows that 90% of the beds are filled with Black and Brown folks fighting for their lives. I wish you could see. A brief tour of a COVID ICU is enough to break your heart in half. We pray our families will never have to experience this “life.” The amount of “I’m so sorrys” we tell our patients can’t make things better. Our hand holding can’t fix them. We run for 12 hours, bathe them, wash their hair, redress their wounds with fresh white gauze, apply lotion; anything to make them look better, feel better, be more human.
Today I get vaccinated for them. Because they don’t deserve an ICU admission. An ICU death. Their families don’t deserve to look at them through glass, hold their hands for the last time with full PPE. Parents don’t deserve to see their children struggle to breathe, or not breathe at all. Yes their lungs literally become so fibrotic they don’t move at all.
I respect your decision to choose for yourself. But please, do the research before you completely debunk the vaccine. Believe science, not the internet. Think of others. Protect Black and Brown folks. Protect yourself. Get vaccinated.