114. Palliative Nursing

Tuesday November 17 2020

A nurse in South Dakota has the night off.  She settles back into her sofa, dog curled by her side. The coping mechanism for tonight is a bowl of Oreo ice cream as she replays her last hospital shift in her mind. Something’s off, and honestly, things have been off balance for several weeks now. She turns to Twitter to share what she’s been experiencing.

And it may not be what you think.

Just like every health care worker in the country, this nurse is made of tough stuff. Ten months into this pandemic, let’s face it; anyone less has been weeded out by now. She’s there providing experienced medical care to guide patients towards recovery, but is, of course, is no stranger to death. But this year is different. No matter the criticality of the patient, no family members are permitted to visit. The medical team has the additional challenge of facing the fallout resulting from this denial of what most of us consider a basic right.

South Dakota has seen a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases, which has been attributed to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held back in August. Although this claim was researched by several analysts and three universities, South Dakota’s governor dismisses it as “back of the napkin math” of made-up numbers. There is no mask mandate in the state as the coronavirus continues to spread.

On Twitter, this nurse shares the story of patients dying from COVID-19, who are completely rejecting that they have the virus. Let’s Facetime your family, she says. And they refuse, because they’re not that sick, they say. It’s just a flu bug or pneumonia and they’ll get better in a few days.

But they don’t recover.

The nurse has been shouted at, called names. That’s just part of nursing, she says during an interview after her tweets go viral.  But the weight she carries is how these patients die with so much anger, resentment, and hate. They’re separated from their loved ones and left with only hospital staff providing palliative care. The entire time the patient is denying that this “fake” virus is ending them.

Back in August (“#74. Attitude Adjustments“), I talked a bit about cognitive dissonance, the concept of people so invested in a particular belief they will double-down when presented with evidence proving otherwise. Don and I witnessed this first-hand with a family member who vehemently denied he had developed adult-stage diabetes, despite a full limb amputation and bi-weekly dialysis appointments. It was unreal trying to reason with him as he would push medical bills at us showing, as he believed, no charges for diabetes care. We knew self-care wasn’t happening and there was little we could do, until he was finally admitted to assisted living care.

A healthy smattering of skepticism when considering new information is always well advised, right? True education can never be found in a single resource. And yet, we’re so comfortable when we surround ourselves with those of a common belief. And when a leader of a super-power shrugs his shoulders and tells us that COVID-19 isn’t that big of a deal, who doesn’t want that to be true?

Science is a remarkably powerful force of nature, so to speak. And the thing about science is that you don’t have just one person out there, standing on a balcony declaring new discoveries to the upturned faces. Research is a process performed independently by countless universities, medical schools, clinical studies, and sure, even Big Pharma needs recognized here for the work they’ve done. Findings are submitted to peer-reviewed publications, where the entire research process is critiqued for accuracy. And if the results from a published study are unsubstantiated, such as that wonky vaccine vs. autism report, the collective scientific community will act to debunk it. 

I used to think that those who dismiss COVID-19 as a real threat simply feel that way because they don’t know anyone yet who has been ill. They’ll take it seriously, I would say, when a family member is in the hospital fighting against the virus.

I want to go back in time when I still believed that.


I can’t just drop this kind of post without a heartfelt Thank You to the medical professionals on the front lines, including my daughter-in-law, who are faced with new risks they didn’t know they signed up for. Keep fighting the good fight and know that your long shifts, sleepless nights, your challenging times, and even your sad days are recognized. We need you and simply cannot survive without you. #truth

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