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‘Imagine watching a patient suffocating’: ICU nurse’s message

A nurse’s words on the immense personal toll of treating COVID-19 patients has gone viral, including grabbing the attention of her local mayor.

At this week’s city council committee meeting in Aurora, Illinois, Mayor Richard Irvin read the powerful message posted to Facebook Saturday by intensive care unit nurse Carol Williams.

“Look in her eyes, look at her face. The pain, the frustration,” Irvin said at the meeting. “I want to read her words to you, to everybody listening, so I don’t have to say it anymore.”

Williams, a mother of four and an ICU nurse of 17 years, posted this selfie after spending five hours working to save a COVID-19 patient.

“In this moment, I felt defeated because I already knew what the outcome would be even though it hadn’t happened yet,” Williams wrote.

“The inability to save a patient despite doing everything you can is mentally exhausting. Now imagine doing that on repeat for eight months and counting,” she said. “Imagine watching a patient suffocating through a door while scrambling to get your PPE on because they inadvertently removed the mask they desperately need to breathe but you still need to protect yourself first.”

“Imagine being the nurse and doctor telling a patient we need to put them on the ventilator because we have exhausted all other measures,” Williams wrote. “Imagine being the nurse or doctor holding that same patient’s hand and stroking their head weeks later while their ventilator is removed because they haven’t improved and their family then says goodbyes and I love yous over FaceTime while they take their last breath.”

Williams then urged readers to put themselves in the COVID-19 patient’s shoes.

“The breathlessness, pain, fear, loneliness, isolation, anxiety, hopelessness, and sadness. The need to use all your energy just to breathe,” she said. “The true realization you may not get better and facing your own mortality.”

Williams pleaded, “Stop kidding yourself that this isn’t going to affect you or someone you love or know, it will. Stop thinking that only unhealthy people with preexisting medical conditions or elderly people are the ones dying, they aren’t the only ones.”

“Please do not discount all the lives lost or affected by this pandemic any longer,” Williams concluded, asking for Americans to work together and come together as a country.

Mayor Irvin said at the meeting, “Remember her words. Remember the anguish on her face.”

Many council members appeared overcome with emotion after hearing Williams’ words, with one member saying, “So moved.”

Williams told ABC News Friday that she wanted to convey the “true reality” of being a COVID-19 patient as well as the experiences of being a health care worker.

Nurses and doctors must have thick skin, Williams said, but the pandemic “has affected me in a way I never even imagined.”

“Just the absolute heartbreak for my patients. Things that we’ve seen … it definitely has affected me at home,” Williams said.

As for her viral Facebook post, Williams said, “I had no idea that I would reach so many.”

“I was moved myself just hearing them out loud,” she said of the mayor reading her words. “Knowing everything my co-workers and myself have been experiencing … just hearing somebody really empathize with that … I’m just so grateful.”

Aurora, Illinois, has over 10,000 COVID-19 cases and at least 155 deaths. The U.S. now has over 11.7 million cases and at least 253,309 deaths.

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