It’s a scenario that has played out countless times in intensive care units around the world: a health-care worker shepherding a gravely ill COVID-19 patient through their final moments while family members watch on via a mobile device.
“We hear numbers of 20 deaths per day, 30 deaths per day and it gets really easy to get numb to those numbers,” Dr. Neeja Bakshi said in an interview with Global News.
“But each of those deaths is a person with a story and a family.”
In an effort to bring some humanity back to the staggering number of deaths in Alberta, the Edmonton doctor who works on the internal medicine ward at the Royal Alexandra Hospital recounted sitting with a 75-year-old woman as she died.
“Hi Jane. This is Dr. Bakshi calling from Edmonton. I am not sure if you’re aware, but your mom Anne was admitted to the COVID ward about 2 hours ago,” Bakshi wrote on Twitter. (Scroll down to see more tweets)
“I’m calling because she is not doing well, and will likely not survive the day.”
The names in her story are fictional to protect the family’s privacy.
“Deafening silence….followed by a chilling shriek…. tears… gasping for air trying to form words… phone clicks. Five minutes pass, and I call again,” Bakshi wrote.
“Through her tears, Jane responds: Yes. I’m so sorry for hanging up on you. I was shocked. I didn’t even know she wasn’t well, I spoke to my mom two days ago.
“I am in B.C. I won’t make it in time, will I?”
Dr. Bakshi went to explain how the hospital arranged for an iPad to be brought in so the daughter could say goodbye to her mom.
Before they called her daughter, the patient insisted on putting on lipstick: “If I’m dying today, I’m dying beautifully, with my lipstick on. Hand me a mirror.”
“She was just so insistent that she needed to look good when she died. I found that so dignified,” Bakshi said.
“You could tell that she had come to terms with what was happening. So I gave her her lipstick. She put her lipstick on and we got her ready to talk to her daughter.”
Bakshi said the mother and daughter had difficulty hearing each other because the high-flow oxygen machines in the room are loud and the mother was wearing an oxygen mask.
The daughter asked for the doctor to sit with her mom as she died. While that’s not always possible for staff to do when asked due to the need to be with other patients, Bakshi said in this case she was able to remain in the room.
Bakshi said she sat with the patient, and her daughter on the iPad in silence for 30 minutes, as the woman passed away.
“It was a very intimate moment. I don’t know how to explain what it feels like to be holding a family member on a Zoom screen while their loved one is passing away. It’s a very weird feeling. You feel close to the family in that moment. But you also feel very distant.”
“As the physician or the nurse doing that, you are the conduit for the love between those two parties and it’s a great responsibility.”
This week, the province announced an additional 95 deaths (reported from Monday to Thursday) related to COVID-19.
On Wednesday alone, Alberta reported 34 deaths, which is among the highest ever announced in a single day.
More than 2,700 people have died from COVID-19 in Alberta since the start of the pandemic and 483 of those deaths in the past 120 days, according to statistics from the Alberta government.
Below is a collection of Bakshi’s tweets: