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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Mike Gatlin, an ICU nurse at Greenville Memorial Hospital in South Carolina, put compassion for his patient above everything else.
There isn’t a shortage of things to do as a health care professional during a pandemic —especially last July when cases spiked across South Carolina — but Gatlin couldn’t leave his patient before she died.
“I just didn’t want this patient to die alone,” Gatlin said. “So, I stayed there with her and I held her hand until her last breath.”
The patient was older, in her 80s, and had underlying health conditions. Gatlin had been caring for her for two days and knew that things would likely go downhill when she got sick with COVID. Her family decided to take her off life support. For privacy concerns, the patient’s name and family were not disclosed.
Mike Gatlin, an ICU nurse at Greenville Memorial Hospital, comforts his patient (Photo: Submitted photo by Donna Tinkham)
Three family members were allowed to visit. They had to wear the same protective equipment as Gatlin and his fellow hospital workers.
“I take them in the room and they’re crying, and they can’t touch their face because they’re in a COVID room and they can’t wipe the tears back,” Gatlin said. “And it’s just extremely difficult for them,”
After a few minutes, they told Gatlin it was too difficult to be there and had to leave. Fellow nurses took the family to the waiting room and he stayed to be with the patient.
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“It’s always difficult, but I just try to put myself in someone else’s shoes and I wouldn’t want any of my family members to die alone,” Gatlin said. “And it’s comforting, just knowing that someone is there with them, so if I can be that person for people that either don’t have families or their families can’t make it because they’re out of town, or their emotions get too much and they can’t handle being there, I always try to be there for my patient.”
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This was just one example of what frontline health care professionals have experienced since the spring.
Gatlin said the camaraderie he feels with his fellow nurses is similar to what he felt during his time in the Air Force. He could stay with his patient and his co-workers would understand and could handle other patients in the meantime, he said.
“We all know that we’ve got each other’s back, it doesn’t need to be said,” Gatlin said.
Morale can get low in a hospital, especially for COVID-19 patients in an ICU.
Gatlin said he reminds fellow health care workers that patients need them and they must find ways to keep their spirits up.
For him, that’s exercise, taking personal time and his family.
“We’ve got twin girls, they’re 16 months old,” Gatlin said. “To them, there’s no bad day. When they see me and they’re just immediately happy and just seeing that they don’t know what I’ve been through, and at that point, it doesn’t matter what daddy has seen. ”
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