As the recent wave of the Coronavirus finally eases throughout the US and the new vaccines bring glimmers of hope, the aftershock and traumatic effects of a years long treacherous battle sink in. So many families are left haunted by the events leading up to their loved one dying, alone in an ICU or long-term care facilities. It's hard to stomach the reality of their pain. They were isolated, dying without dignity, no closure, no memorial -- it's surreal that our modern healthcare system was so grossly underprepared. Nurses did the best they could for these patients while protecting themselves, but it simply wasn't enough for either. And it wasn't their fault; it was no ones fault.
The healthcare system is failing humanity.
I was listening to a fascinating, thought-provoking interview recently called "Evolutionary Virus Discussion" between Dr. Zach Bush and Del Bigtree on The Highwire. It definitely gave me a broader viewpoint through which to see not only this pandemic, but all the previous outbreaks like SARS, MERS, etc. and future emerging viruses yet to come. Toward the end of the interview, Dr. Bush asserted, "If there are crimes against humanity being exercised right now, I don't believe it's in a military lab. I believe that it's in those ICUs of dying patients alone. In what time in history, have we decided we need to, in mass, let people die alone? Marines are taught to never leave a solider on the battlefield. Marines will literally charge into machine gun fire, into rocket fire, to go grab that injured solider so that they don't die alone in enemy hands. What level of fear have we induced in mankind that we are letting our revered elderly and our young people who are dying from these conditions, die alone? It is worse than rocket fire...We are tearing apart the very fabric of what it means to be human."
We are tearing apart the very fabric of what it means to be human.
By allowing people to suffer and die without their families by their side, we are prioritizing one life over another. This "tyranny of fear" has overtaken healthcare so much so, that we are willing to take newborns from their parents and let dying patients transition to the other side alone and isolated from their loved ones. If we truly believe that all lives are created equal, we will put the necessary protocols in place to protect and dignify every human life, no matter how much time they have left on this earth. We must not become calloused and except this reality as normal during current or future surges in patient volumes.
So what constitutes a good death and what is considered a bad death?
According to a study released in December 2020, Dying alone and lonely dying: Media discourse and pandemic conditions, a good death is a period of transition in which suffering is short; pain of any kind, including the pain of loneliness, is addressed; the individual exercises some amount of agency and/or control; and the presence of loved ones is honored if the individual desires support. Lonely deaths, painful deaths, unobserved deaths, are seen as disturbing and non-normative. Additionally, the aftermath of lonely deaths may lead to disenfranchised grief in surviving family and friends with long-lasting negative consequences.
The finality of death is an incredibly powerful, spiritual experience. Dr. Bush continues, "If anything is a hallowed ground for spiritual environment, it is the birthplace of a child and the birthplace of a person about to transition to the other side." How will healthcare emerge differently out of this pandemic to make sure that we are never forced to close healthcare facilities off to loved ones of dying patients?
There are at least 3 ways we can fight for a better way forward.
- Create or update your Hospital Preparedness Plan for medical surges in patient volumes during times of hazard impact due to infectious disease epidemics, natural disasters, or other major emergencies.
- Focus on Advanced Care Planning for patients and the concept of contemporary dying by discussing their wishes about their preferences in dying and whether or how they want to be accompanied at their death, helping individuals prepare for this possibility and better integrating death with the life course. [source]
- Implement or update Planned Visitation Protocols that prioritize the protection of healthcare workers, dying patients, and their loved ones equally, even during times of high patient volume.
We are passionate about the need for change in healthcare protocols relating to planned family visitation and end-of-life care. We created the Self-Contained Negative Pressure Environment to give hospitals a new way to protect healthcare workers and other patients, as well as, increase throughput and better manage patient flow in the facility during unexpected surges in patient volumes. By doing this, hospitals will be better equipped to fight for a new way forward.