Allow me to write these lines to thank you, once again, for your dedication and generosity.
My grandfather Gregorio had, within the misfortune of falling ill in one of the worst moments that humanity has had to live (the COVID-19 pandemic), the luck of meeting someone like you.
Someone who has known how to see in my grandfather’s eyes something more than a simple number. Someone who has been able to see what my grandfather was and will always be for us: an admirable person.
From my family we can only thank you, one and a thousand times, that you were with him in his last moments. In a situation as tough as the one experienced (both for the health workers, for the sick and finally for their families), your work and dedication have meant that my grandfather could have someone who in a certain way would comfort him and allow him leave in peace. And that you have been kind enough to tell us how these last few moments with him were, it has allowed the family to shake off the slab that meant that we could not have been by his side.
As you knew, my grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, something that made the situation even more difficult. For a person in his condition, it is very hard to be in a hospital away from the few memories and relatives that can give you peace and serenity. But your words have allowed us to see that even adding the cruelty of two diseases as hard as Alzheimer’s and COVID, and an environment as hostile as a hospital can be, the small gestures of charity and kindness that you had towards him, have made that the situation was more humane.
It was hard for us to believe that someone who has given so much to life could just leave like that.
That is why, thanks to you, we have been able to breathe easier, especially my grandmother, because when we read your letter we have realized that, indeed, she did not just leave.
Thanks from my heart.
Hello, Gregorio’s family.
Excuse me for not introducing myself, I don’t know if data protection would allow me to write this letter, although it seems that in times of COVID anything goes. I’ve been trying for weeks with Gregorio’s sticker (with all his details) stuck on the back of my identification card.
Not even know where to start. It is difficult when the days become sometimes so distant and others so close.
On the night shift we had already suffered chaos for several days. It looked more like a field or war hospital, with rooms crammed with patients, in couches, chairs, and no space. The consultations, where before the doctors had their computer table, their chair and the examination table, had been converted into boxes with up to three tables. Although, thus, one imagines uproar, us running from one place to another, bustle, noise … only silence was heard. Hardly anyone spoke. That silence broken by the doorbell of the “critical box” or a colleague asking for help for a patient.
Sometimes in my head I remember that silence … it’s deafening. Even with the rush that we were in all those days, with the desire to be able to attend minimally to everyone, it was as if time stopped and everything happened in slow motion, like in a movie. And that’s how people’s faces appeared, like that of his father, Juan (I am speaking to you, to Gregorio’s son, because it is easier for me to write thinking of someone who reads).
My area was what we called “corridor” or “preferred”, the one that took care of patients to attend quickly. That day we were still in the box and despite this new overload I was the only nurse in the area. His father was in one of my boxes. When I saw him, upon entering, I greeted him as I always do: “Hi, Gregorio! I’m X, your nurse.” Do you know what he answered me with? A smile! And a “hello!” OMG! A smile! A smile … An oasis in the middle of the desert, an ideal way for a start of shift that was very hard … And not only that. He looked up and beautiful eyes!
Do you know those stories that tell that laughter is contagious, that it gladdens the soul and heals? Well, they are true, and through the eyes of his father you can also see an immense humanity. Giant.
I’m not going to fool you, because you already know, Gregorio was not well at all. It was hard for him to breathe.
We chatted and he laughed, called me daughter and promised that he would not remove the mask that helped him breathe. At first he didn’t keep his promise and I had to tell him again: “Gregorio, the mask!” Then he realized that he was not wearing it, he laughed again and we put it back on him.
As he tried to check on the other patients, the critics bell rang. Antonia, 70 years old, could not breathe. As we began to do things to her, she said that she had not come to the window to applaud for three days, but her husband came out, who thanked us greatly for what we did and while crying, with a pleading tone, he said: “I just want to see my grandchildren again”.
They called the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). There were no beds anymore (not for someone like her, at least). With maximum oxygen, Antonia was still not breathing well. “You have to trust,” the doctors said. Doctors whose dogma is scientific but who in recent days seemed to cling to I don’t know what providence.
We turned Antonia face down and, as in the TV series, we all looked at the monitor pending some numbers that, finally, began to rise. There were no guarantees with this, but no respirator for her either, so the “New Gods”, the pulmonologists, would try to do the rest with their invented and adapted new devices.
When I returned to the box, Gregorio was still awake. I went over, grabbed his hand and asked him: “How are you, Gregorio?” “Good”. And a smile. But this time I didn’t want to let go. “Gregorio, is it difficult for you to breathe?” “Do not”. But the reality was that I didn’t see it well at all. I notified the doctor and we started giving him more treatment: inhalers, intravenous corticosteroids, painkillers, etc.
“Shit, another reviewer!” I let him pass part of the medication and left. This time it did not take so long to return to the box. “Gregorio! How’s it going?” “Good, daughter.” But I was barely seeing improvement. More medications. That look … he spoke so much with his eyes …
You know, Juan? For a few years I worked in a Palliative Care Unit. Sometimes people are suffering, because there are pains of the soul that medicines do not cure. But others, fortunately, leave calmly, with peace.
His father transmitted that.
It’s already almost 4 in the morning, I more or less had the patients under my care half controlled, so I was still there, with Gregorio. With the first dose of morphine he improved a little, so all those noises from his chest that were heard before were blending in with the night environment, but for him it was still daytime. Those eyes wide open, immense, with a depth that invited to pierce them. That hand taking off the nightgown. I grabbed some compresses soaked in water and while I was cooling her body and intertwining my fingers with her hair, like when you comb children, I realized that surely any of you would have done the same to her. And then I thought about his family, how worried they would be for Gregorio, how those moments were being, and it was at that precise moment that I conceived the possibility of writing this letter. I never thought that that conversation with Gregorio was his farewell, but his memory of you.
So I asked him about you, Juan, about your other children, about your grandchildren and … about your wife. When I did the latter I was afraid. I was afraid that she was not yet alive or that the question would not do her any good. The light in the room was dim but all of him lit up as he pronounced his wife’s name: Concepción.
So once again he made me smile: with tenderness, with emotion and almost without being able to hold back the tears. He was talking about you, but especially about her.
It may sound like an absurd comparison to you, but do you know in the Peter Pan movie when Tinker Bell asks Peter to choose his “happy thought” so she can fly? Well, I assure you that for his father that thought was his wife.
The second dose of morphine made him much better. Now he seemed sleepy, telling him that it was late and that he had to rest and sleep. I put my hand on his chest and thanked him for that smile. He smiled again and I … too. It was 5 in the morning when he finally slept.
The night ran its course. More patients arrived and around 6 in the morning a lady entered through the critics’ box. She was coming in very badly, almost asphyxiated, the last words she heard were mine when I explained how the intubation was going to be: “You won’t feel anything.”
But I … I did.
While I was walking the scarce five meters that separate the critics’ box from that of his father, I came across this woman’s son, I just lowered my head.
When I got to the box I leaned against the gap in the door. He watched his father sleep peacefully and breathe. TO BREATHE. That image was my happiest thought of that night.
It took several days to make use of the sticker that I had left. Although I already knew the outcome, I imagine that I needed to wait to tell you the news. Days before, my colleagues had informed me that a black diamond is a death. His father appeared with that diamond. Reading the medical history, I was reassured to know that my colleagues on the ward were talking about how calm he was during the entire admission (that in our slang means “no suffering”).
I do not know if they could go to see him and perhaps that was the main reason for this letter. I do not want them to think that the last moments of their father were of suffering, cold and lonely. I need you to know that even when he was ill he was an exceptional patient. That, as Bécquer said: “With his gaze he gave me a world that night and I’m totally sure that with his smile he won heaven.”
Tell Concepción that perhaps at some point during her deterioration her mind could throw things and even people into oblivion, but that night she enjoyed splendid lucidity, because she only spoke of the days they had lived together and of what they had loved.
If you ask someone why they are a nurse, they can give you multiple reasons. I will only give you one: “I love my profession and, although with moments as hard as the ones we live today, I love it even more because thanks to stories like those lived with her father, I realize that nursing makes us essentially human, and that it’s a quality that I never want to lose. “
No patient is indifferent to us, but it is no less true that some leave a deep mark on us. What a paradox!
In times of war it is almost impossible to find peace. And yet her father helped me find her.
Hopefully you can find in these words a little bit of that peace despite your loss, because a bit of Gregorio accompanies each letter and there is no better tribute than a smile and that “happy thought” with which I still remember him. I wait for you in the streets, when all this happens and it is time to again demand quality and humane Public Health. Meanwhile, from the “trenches” we continue to fight so that this cry stops being a plea and finally becomes a reality.
A hug from one of Gregorio’s nurses.