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“Nursie, I could video call my relative?” a 26-year-old patient asked as he lay at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Couva Hospital and Multi-Training Facility.

He was undergoing oxygen therapy with a non-rebreather mask, alternating with Continuous Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (BPAP). Nurses expected him to recover from the COVID-19 disease, which claimed over 1600 lives.

His ICU nurse, Josette Bethel-Smith, responded to him:

“Sure you can. How else would they see you? It is the only form of communication you all have right now.”

Sharing her story at the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 update, Bethel-Smith said she expected him to reunite with his family. But his health worsened, resulting in him undergoing oral intubation and being hooked up to mechanical ventilation. He died a few days later.

“I felt that because I told him to talk to them all you want because not many people get to do that,” she revealed.

Bethel-Smith always loved being a nurse, but the last couple of months made her question her career choice. With so many deaths, especially among the unvaccinated, she said this traumatises nurses, who already are emotionally and physically drained.

October recorded more COVID-19 infections than the previous three months, as schools and more businesses reopened. Some people continue to take COVID-19 lightly or criticise the care patients receive. However, Bethel-Smith said people would never understand what goes on in an ICU unless they are there. A day in the ICU is exhausting for nurses, who are sometimes unable to eat, drink or use the bathroom when needed. They can spend six to 12 hours wearing Personal Protective Equipment to ensure they can respond promptly to patients’ needs. Bethel-Smith said they also make sure patients video call their relatives, as sometimes, it is their last conversation with those they love.

She said nurses barely get time to rest and see their families. To help ease their workload, she pleaded with the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and for everyone to follow the public health measures.

“We can only do so much. A patient’s status can change without warning. And sometimes, relatives are asked to make what could be life-changing decisions on behalf of their loved ones. And as nurses, it is hard because we are the ones tasked with ensuring we do what is required to keep their relative alive,” Bethel-Smith said.

The ICU housed 22 patients but recently increased its capacity for an additional 19. ICU patients vary in ages, from children to the elderly who are critically ill and require high amounts of oxygen through face masks or mechanical ventilation, constant monitoring and a cocktail of medication.

She also warned that people who smoke have a more difficult time with COVID-19 because it is a respiratory disease.