By Jessiela Roberts
Please hold my hands, she said.
Is this it? Is this where I am going to die?
I am so exhausted.
I watched as they rolled her onto our unit; she was frail and tired.
Cyanosis had enveloped her frame.
We had used all the conservative treatment options available but continued to decline.
With capacity intact, she elected to forgo aggressive interventions.
She had fought many health battles before and shared that if time was short, she didn’t want to spend it connected to machines withering away, especially if hope of survival hinged on a chance and a prayer.
Can my family visit me?
Her eyes were burdened with fear, as tears carved tracks along her dry cheeks,
Chest rising rapidly, racing towards the inevitable,
Air thick with desperation, as hope evaporated with each hungry breath,
Death lingered at the door like a bailiff waiting to issue a summons.
Hold my hands please.
I am scared she said, I don’t want to die alone.
I held her hands in that second, gloves to flesh, finger interlocked.
I gently cupped her cheeks and stroked her hair, while reciting the 23rd Psalm and a prayer.
A calm fell over her continence while the meds took effect.
The plastic between us felt cold and sterile but it was necessary.
The nurse entered and we assisted with her personal care before video calling her family to offer words of comfort and let them say a final good bye.
An overwhelming sense of helplessness filled my heart in that moment.
My presence, prayers and comfort meds were the only support I could give her, yet it still didn’t feel like enough.
It was no substitute for the love and care of her family.
I wish I could bend time, and undo the events leading up to that day.
In the end, it didn’t matter that she was a good person who had spent her life doing right by her friends and family.
The COVID-19 pandemic had pushed pause on all her plans.
I watch over the next few days as she slowly slipped from this earth,
I held her hands with each exam to let her know that I was there and I cared.
I spoke to her when words felt useless and prayed for her release.
She reminded me that healing is often just being present and offering the gift of a caring hand.
Looking back, I think holding her hands was as therapeutic for me as it was her.
She rid me of the distress I felt of not being able to fix all the madness in the world.
She allow me to accept the chaos and pause to be present between the intersection of life and death.
Jessiela Roberts, M.D., is a Family Medicine Specialist in Fort Smith, AR. She is a graduate of Trinity School of Medicine. This piece is the distillation of her spoken word poetry in response to her experience as a physician in the COVID-19 pandemic.