The other day, I went into the intensive care unit where our most acutely ill COVID-19 patients are being cared for.
The unit is full, busy, well-staffed. Life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE in the trade) is stacked at regular intervals along the hallway so it can be easily and quickly accessed and donned by staff as needed. The rooms have sliding glass doors and the unit is built on a gentle curve, so all the patients are visible from the nurses’ station.
All the patients are being helped to breathe by one device or another. Drugs, liquids and calories are being pumped into them via long tubes from devices outside their rooms – a distance that allows the nurses to attend to the machines without having to enter the patient rooms themselves, which would require the donning of more PPE, in very short supply.
The unit hallway is filled with beeping, blinking machines and the computers that monitor them. Like a sci-fi movie from the 1960s, it’s the very image of cutting-edge modern medical technology.
The nursing staff is busy, one sliding aside her facemask to get a quick gulp of coffee, another for bite of lunch in between direct patient care and impromptu unit meetings. Someone described pandemic response as a marathon but in this unit, it’s being run more like a series of sprints.
I expected all that.
What I didn’t expect was the feeling I had of being in a sacred space, filled with heroes. And I mean heroes in the literal, classical sense: people who know they’re exposing themselves to increased effort and risk but do it anyway, to serve their patients and the broader community outside these walls.
Most people will never see inside a place like this. They would have a heightened appreciation for the human beings who work there if only they could.