Dying during COVID-19 should come with respectBy Veita Bland, M.D. / October 28, 2021
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COVID-19 has taught us about life and death in so many ways. It has helped us find a sense of humanity and made us look at how people to die. During this pandemic we have lost worldwide more than seven million people. So many of these people died alone; no one should die alone.
In the early phases of this brutal fight, we had few weapons to aide us. If someone was suspected of or known to have COVID-19, they were not allowed to have visitors. If the patient was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the family was often not permitted to visit. The lockdown was instituted to protect everyone as we learned how to wage a war against this deadly virus.
We have heard reports of thousands of last calls made and received by people on their cell phones to their loved ones fighting COVID-19. Some of these calls were with precious video and others without. That last call with a weakened loved one undoubtedly provided some level of comfort.
How many times did we see television coverage of people dying alone in nursing homes with family members outside of the facility at a window? We have witnessed family members holding up cards that say, “We love you,” in an attempt to comfort a dying family member or friend. How many more people died from loneliness and lack of human companionship during this pandemic?
So many people have been concerned and troubled by the fact that many people with COVID-19 died alone. Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine is focusing on ways to improve end-of-life care. This is a subject to which he has given much thought.
Caplan and his medical colleagues have formulated new and improved end-of-life policies and procedures. They first inform family members of the infectious nature of the COVID-19 virus. Then they give the family the option to be with their loved one if they choose. If a loved one chooses to stay at the hospital, that person(s) is provided protective gear.
If a dying COVID-19 patient has no family around, these new policies give the staff an opportunity to volunteer to sit and comfort the patient. Of course, staff would also wear protective gear. It is important to note that any hospital staff member volunteering to provide comfort to a COVID-19 patient must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The creation of vaccines against COVID-19 has given healthcare providers some breathing room to be able to comfort patients and their loved ones with very low risk of contracting the virus. I believe we will see updates on these visitation and care policies in healthcare systems across the country.
Death is such a final event. Practicing the art of dying is hard. It should be respectful, done with honor and never done alone.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at firstname.lastname@example.org.