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Nurses are stepping in to say Shema with the patients

Scenes from my day as a nurse on the frontlines of COVID-19 in New York: Asked to lay tefillin on a patient; downloading the Vidui prayer; crying

Today, I was asked to lay tefillin on a patient lying in the ICU, who was vented and sedated. I couldn’t — for infection control reasons — but I did reassure the sleeping patient that he is in good hands and that his family sends their love. I said a quick prayer in my gear before stepping out and carefully disrobing.

Today, I downloaded Vidui, the Jewish deathbed prayer, because we have some patients who may reach that point, and they reach it rapidly and unexpectedly, and family is not allowed to be there, and nurses are stepping in to say Shema with the patients.

Today, I had a three-way conversation with a Hasidic 60-year old patient, her son, and their rabbi, to determine end-of-life decisions, as she neared intubation. She kept blinking away tears, but nodded at me to continue, saying, “This is important.”

Today after work, I snuck into an ICU in a different institution to check on someone and assure the family that their loved one is okay, and they cried in relief.

And today, I comforted and cried with multiple community members, as they called me throughout the day, wailing, as loved ones died today, age 39, age 42, age 50. I prescribed Ativan for those who needed the numbness and guided them on how to attend funerals (N95 mask, gloves, and 20 feet away from others).

And then I drove home, passing shrieking ambulances on the highway bringing more patients for me to care for tomorrow.

About the Author
Blimi Marcus is a nurse practitioner at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and an adjunct professor at Hunter College. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
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