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ICU Nurse Shares Her Experience Of Working With COVID-19 Patients

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tens of thousands of people with COVID-19 have been hospitalized in the U.S. since the beginning of March. For intensive care nurses, photos of their patients are proving to be essential for getting to know them. Often, those patients lie face down to help with breathing. Their faces can become swollen and unrecognizable. MacKenzie, an intensive care nurse in the Pacific Northwest, explains in her essential worker audio diary. She's asked us not to use her last name for fear of losing her job.

MACKENZIE: We had had an older gentleman come into the clinic and a couple hours later got the test back that he was COVID-19 positive. His face was swollen. I couldn't recognize him. It was a long night, my first night with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG SONG, "ANEW")

MACKENZIE: We were calling and updating the wife maybe every two hours. And she was at a place that I could ask her if she had time to send in pictures because us not being able to see his face, those pictures would mean so much to us. And within a week, we got that packet of pictures - him cooking with his grandkids, him sitting in a restaurant booth with his wife with the jolliest, most beautiful smile - this man that I had never seen smile. I understood him a little bit more.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG SONG, "ANEW")

MACKENZIE: And so when I talked to him, you know, I was able to say, we're going to get you back to cooking. We're going to get you back to your wife and your grandkids. And knowing that the pictures we sent the families, the pictures they send us may be the only connection they have with each other, we always put them in a place that the patient can see them as well because the idea is that when they do start waking up, it gives them their family to look at and to encourage them. And so we hung them up on a place that we thought, when he woke up, he could start to look at them. And unfortunately, he never got to that place. He didn't make it.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG SONG, "ANEW")

MACKENZIE: We got, a few weeks later, the most beautiful letter from his wife expressing her gratitude for the care we had given him. And we've still never met her, obviously, but the connection there is so incredible. And I feel like that has to do with those pictures and essays she wrote.

SHAPIRO: MacKenzie is an intensive care nurse in the Pacific Northwest.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS PASCHBURG SONG, "ANEW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.