By Raj Omaru
Rising senior Raj Omaru logged countless hours at the Baystate Medical Center this summer, working as a patient care technician in the pediatric intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a story of his experiences, told firsthand through the eyes of the one who lived it.
“Why did you go back?”
“Loneliness, the thing we all try to avoid but most of us don’t outwardly project, as though we actually know what it even is. We have our phones, we have our inner circle, and we have our social identity.What do you do, however, if it’s all shoved to the side and you’re face to face with just yourself, your thoughts, and what seems like the end? We face our true feelings, who we actually are inside and what we wish we did and what we wish we didn’t…we find us.”
One of the things I learned while working on a critical patient who had been placed on a ventilator was just that. Day after day I was faced with the truth of how those patients feel, and how their experience in the hospital developed their feelings of loneliness. The first woman I ever took care of taught me that compassion could cure loneliness.
The room had been avoided for weeks as it was known that the virus was new, not knowing the terrors of fighting a respiratory illness with no known treatments scared away nurses and healthcare workers alike. Refusing to get a needed chest X-ray, as she was wheeled into the hallway, a mental breakdown ensued.
I watched her argue and fight as no one surrounded her or even dared to. I started toward her swinging arms, knelt beside her and raised my hand, removed my glove and grabbed her hand.
“I feel alone sometimes and that’s why I come here because I’m never alone here, just like you right now. We are here with you,” I told her.
She cried as she told me she was never afraid of the virus like these other people; she was terrified of being alone and I’d helped… For some of them you never learn what happens after but you hold their lessons.
I learned from an old Italian companion that with compassion you can break boundaries. You may not understand some patients language wise, but you feel their spirit and who they are as a person. My Italian companion may not have spoken one lick of english, nonetheless, we spoke.
I swear to God. We talked of our days as I helped him with breathing therapy and washing as he deteriorated, smiling through every encounter. FaceTiming his family as the time got close, holding him to my chest knowing he liked his head rubbed and apple juice (not cranberry) – big difference, oxygen tubing up, not down, and bed tilted 70 degrees exactly with no blanket. You break boundaries and you are never alone after that. You shake hands in a different language, a different way.
Addio amico mio.
Goodbye, my friend.
Lastly, from my dear childhood friend and coach, I learned that with compassion the ones who have passed live on through you. The memories you have in this life are precious and can be fast in the moment, but are forever on replay in one’s mind.
The countless families I FaceTimed for patients, reassuring that their loved ones wouldn’t be alone, the hands held during intubation, the prayers after every morgue signature, the smile after every discharge, and screaming in the healing garden during anxiety attacks whispered this to my heart.
So I guess I went back to learn to end my own loneliness and to ensure that they would never feel how I felt, as long as I was there. The hospital is home to me, and no one is supposed to feel alone at home. I got to know these people and gave their life a little light during a dark time.
Taking away the loneliness, and in some cases making progress — that is what this is always about. Progress and not perfection. Taking things one day at a time, and trying to be better mentally and physically each day more than the last.
Photo: Raj Omoru