'Today I held his hand': B.C. nurse pens heartbreaking poem after COVID-19 patient dies

.Lost in the chaos of the coronavirus outbreak is one heartbreaking fact, front-line health care workers are often the only people in the room when a patient succumbs to the virus. One B.C. nurse poured his emotions into poetry, after holding the hand of a man who died. Grace Ke reports.

An intensive-care nurse in Vancouver has written a touching poem about his final moments with a patient who died of COVID-19.

Doug Rae, an ICU outreach nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital, had been helping to look after Ray Buchanan, an accomplished, 89-year-old costume designer who’d worked in theatre and film.

Buchanan had recently returned from an overseas trip to London, where he may have contracted the virus.

He was put into isolation in hospital and began to fade. Rae did his best to make sure Buchanan stayed in touch with family and friends by phone.

Shortly before Buchanan passed, Rae called Buchanan’s friend, Tom Sinclair, and told him he didn’t want the elderly man to be alone in what might be his final moments.

“We said the things we wanted to say — how much we cared about him,” Sinclair said of his final conversation with his friend.

“It was just — how do you describe it? You say ‘good-bye’ and you feel that passing.”

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Not long after the phone call, Buchanan stopped breathing on his own.

Rae was in the room when he died later that day. It was March 26, the day after Buchanan’s 90th birthday.

“We were wearing face masks and face shields and gowns and gloves,” Rae said. “It’s so impersonal. It’s not like anybody should ever die like that. Being there holding his hand was the only thing I could do at that point in time.”

Rae later poured his emotions into verse. Family and friends have shared his poem with others to provide a glimpse of what health-care workers go through.

No matter how long he’s been on the job, Rae said, saying good-bye to a patient for the final time takes a toll.

“It doesn’t get easier. The beauty of this, though, is that it shouldn’t get any easier,” he said.

“For me, I always believe that I should let these things affect me to some degree because then I know I’m still human and I still care.”

Here is Rae’s poem:

Today I held his hand
I told him
He was strong
This virus had
Taken over
No more fighting
To be done

Today I held his hand
And in the other
Held a phone
His family said
We love you
It’s time to say
Goodbye

Today I held his hand
As I hung up
On that phone
His breathing pattern
Changed
His heart beating
No more

Today I held his hand
Tears behind my
Plastic face mask
This protective suit
I’m wearing
Cannot shield
humanity

Today I held his hand
So he wouldn’t be
alone.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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