To the Editor:
Recently I had the unexpected opportunity to be an inpatient at Northern Lights Hospital/Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. I did not have COVID-19; however, those six days in the hospital on telemetry allowed me to observe and be part of the stresses of giving and receiving health care today. TV gives us brief glimpses of health care for COVID-19 patients, but unless you have been hospitalized or work in a hospital, it is hard to fully grasp the relentlessness of our hospital’s workspace reality. Every patient in my 54-bed unit had a serious, often life-threatening, illness.
Nurses and doctors provided me with extraordinary and compassionate care: medical professionals full of grace, amazing grace. They are our heroes and heroines; however, they must overcome many obstacles to provide good care.
Currently, the basic infrastructure of the hospital is poor. To name the most noteworthy deficits, fans were distributed due to inadequate air conditioning, hot water in my room seemed a luxury that was not readily available, and the food was dubious, though I fell in love with the egg salad sandwiches the staff provided.
Most, if not all rooms, were double. My roommate wanted her TV and overhead lights on all night. Not conducive to sleep for me, though I was sleep deprived for many reasons. Privacy did not exist with only a drawn curtain between beds. Sleep and rest are hallmarks for recovery from illness, and they were unavailable in the circumstances.
There was a delusional woman in a nearby room screaming all night for her “Mama.” I can only imagine her state of mind seeing anonymous, faceless nurses in masks and shields trying to comfort her and calm her down. This was the background noise for several nights on the fourth floor.
The current COVID-19 protection garb is daunting, though a necessity at this time: masks, shields and gloves are mandatory for everyone. Not only are they hot to wear, but they also make medical staff anonymous, alien. From a patient’s perspective, the lack of facial recognition is disconcerting, at best; only eyes can be seen. To add to the difficulties, the protective shields tended to fog up because of the heat. There must be a way to make this cumbersome garb comfortable. Good air conditioning, perhaps?
Such scenes are played out daily in hospital rooms across America. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the sorry state of our health care infrastructure. Hospitals need to be modernized, which would be a real way to show our support and respect for the medical staff. We all deserve better. Isn’t this the richest nation in the world? At times, the hospital felt Third World.
I am proud to be a Mainer and am so proud of Maine’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, we have been a model state, keeping the number of cases down and the deaths low. Maine has had excellent political leadership. Now we need to have the will to give the medical community the environment they need to do their job.