Ochsner nurse develops sympathy gift program for families of COVID-19 victims

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - COVID-19 struck the Hall family in July.

Jamie Hall and her two kids recovered, but her strong, healthy husband Patrick did not.

Three days after he received his diagnosis, the 40-year-old was in the ICU at Ochsner Hospital in Baton Rouge.

Jaime documented the ups and many downs of his fight on Facebook.

Post after post shows the endless procedures and techniques doctors, nurses, and staff used to try and help Patrick get better. 

Unable to physically be at her husband’s side most of the time, many of those updates came from the nurses in his intensive care unit (ICU), including registered nurse Katie May.

“It hit really close to home because he was so young,” said May.

Nursing is an intimate job under the best of circumstances. Nurses provide care and comfort for a patient when they are at their most vulnerable. With the pandemic forcing patients into strict isolation, nurses are now family in every way but blood.

“I’ve prayed with my patients, I’ve sang with my patients, I’ve held my patent’s hand as they’ve passed away at a time when we couldn’t have any visitors,” said May. “I treat every patient as my own because their family can’t be there. We have to be that lifeline.”

May says she grew very close to the Halls through long phone calls about Patrick. Jamie and her family in turn did everything they could do to support the staff fighting for her husband’s life by sending food and even bracelets with the words #HallStrong. 

So, when Patrick’s fight ended on Aug. 5, it was a loss everyone felt. His life is one of the thousands lost to this virus.

Jaime and Patrick Hall and their two children. Patrick, 40, died after contracting COVID-19.
Jaime and Patrick Hall and their two children. Patrick, 40, died after contracting COVID-19.(Jaime Hall)

“I’ve seen more death in the past couple of months than I have seen in my entire career. It’s brutal. It is,” said May. “To experience so much loss it’s just something we weren’t used to,” said Ochsner ICU registered nurse Paige Screen.

Screen says losing a patient is something you never get used to. She explains the pandemic has led to burnout and emotional exhaustion for many in her field. 

To make the burden of loss a little easier to bear, Screen came up with a way for the staff at Ochsner to provide one last measure of comfort for those patient families. 

The staff sends a sympathy gift that includes a printout of their loved one’s heartbeat and fingerprint, and a card signed by everyone involved in their care.

The Hall family supported the Ochsner ICU staff with meals and words of gratitude.
The Hall family supported the Ochsner ICU staff with meals and words of gratitude.(Jaime Hall)

Screen explains a recent study shows the gifts help both the family and medical staff.

“They can kind of have a piece of their loved ones and we kind of get to connect with the family too and let them know from us our sympathy as well. Let them know it’s not easy, it’s one of the most difficult things,” said Paige.

The care package let the Halls know that Patrick’s life was shared by many and did indeed provide a little comfort after such a hard fight. It allowed these nurses to heal a little bit too.

“It meant a lot to let her know that I was still there, that I hadn’t forgotten, I hadn’t moved on. We’re still behind you,” said May.

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