Dr. Courtney Martin is medical director for maternity providers at Loma Linda College Kids’s Hospital. Underneath regular circumstances, she spends most of her time in labor and supply, caring for pregnant girls, performing gynecologic surgical procedure, bringing infants into the world. However on the peak of the pandemic, she started splitting her time between maternity COVID sufferers and the medical middle’s overflow COVID-19 ward, which was housed in what was the intensive care unit for coronary heart sufferers. She wrote this essay throughout a bout of insomnia in February.

I wish to write about Karl.

It is a lengthy essay, nevertheless it’s as a result of I like to write down. Maybe it’s my remedy, and maybe it’s as a result of Karl deserves to be observed. Each hospital has a Karl.

Karl is somebody I might have by no means met or observed if not for the pandemic — not as a result of I wouldn’t have needed to, however my path doesn’t often cross with that of the dispatch workers. (I’ve realized that is my loss as a result of they’re fantastic individuals and maybe have among the finest tales and see the hospital and sufferers from a novel perspective.) Nevertheless, from the primary spike of the pandemic in July and August, after which, most often in December and January, I watched Karl.

Karl was the man who used to take sufferers from their room to radiology, run tubes of blood to the lab and do vital dispatch issues—even chat sufferers up in the event that they have been capable of converse — using the elevator all day, doing vital work for sufferers and holding the movement going. However because of the pandemic, Karl grew to become the one who moved the lifeless from the rooms after which took them to the morgue. Karl grew to become the physique collector.

I used to be seeing him usually within the transformed cardiac unit which meant it was a foul time in the course of the pandemic. (If an OBGYN is routinely within the ICU and caring for male sufferers — we’re in darkish days.) Like many different physicians, I used to be requested to assist and the reply was apparent. I got here able to study. We additionally had a good variety of OB sufferers who have been critically sick and thus, I used to be up on the unit many days in the course of the week and was snug caring for critically sick COVID sufferers.

Every time I noticed Karl, he had a lightness to him, at all times with a smile. He had delicate eyes with small wrinkles and crow’s toes and an unassuming strategy. And he had a method of seamlessly sliding on and off the unit along with his morgue transport operation — whereas everybody else was hustling across the unit. The telephones have been ringing, pagers have been going off, doorways have been opening and shutting, IV pumps have been beeping, ventilators have been oscillating, after which there was Karl, with a respectful smile, simply quietly and effectively shifting the deceased onto a steel gurney, after which masking them with a black tarp.

I suppose, at first, it was onerous to see Karl and his colleagues go to the models so often, however because the pandemic marched on, I collect that for self-preservation, the nurses and respiratory therapists and different workers members simply stopped overtly noticing. After I occurred to ask the nurses about Karl, they might say, “Oh, he is so type. He simply comes and collects the our bodies, after which earlier than we all know it, one other individual has been wheeled in. We don’t actually have time to consider it, however we’re grateful for him.” They did say that Karl appeared to at all times be the one who got here, at the very least to their unit.

There was in the future 4 individuals died across the similar time on this ICU unit. This was occurring throughout rounds, and a number of groups have been congregating within the corridor. Karl got here in his distinctive teal inexperienced scrubs and his delicate smile, however he by accident bought pinned, along with his steel gurney, between the wall and the workforce of physicians and nurses. He patiently and respectfully waited, carried out a miraculous maneuver and one way or the other, with out being observed, slid the chilly steel mattress into the room to gather the physique. I watched this intently and realized not one individual stated whats up to him, or seemed up, and even made an try to maneuver to assist him get by.

It was eerie and gave me a way of loneliness for Karl and the others who transport the lifeless. Did they actually not see him, or was it that it was too painful to maintain saying hello, acknowledging that we didn’t save yet one more father, mom, grandpa, grandma, or buddy?

In just a few hours, I’m fairly positive Karl collected all of the lifeless and took them every to the morgue, which at this level was in refrigerated semi-trucks. I can’t think about how he transferred them from the gurney, or how he positioned them within the truck. That day was full of plenty of grief felt by the unit workers, the nurses, the residents, the medical doctors — however what about dispatch? What about Karl?

I occurred to run into Karl in labor and supply just a few weeks after the surge had abated. He was doing pre-pandemic dispatch issues and taking a affected person to get an ultrasound. I had talked to Karl one time earlier than within the ICU as a result of I used to be occupied with what he did, however on today, as a result of nothing was pressing and he had a second, I requested him just a few questions. He was again to his outdated job and appeared the identical as he did once I met him wheeling the steel gurney.

I requested Karl how he was doing, about what it was wish to be the one to move the lifeless, and I thanked him for doing that terribly troublesome job.

It had been a wrestle to consider Karl and the others who transported the lifeless, up and down, all day and evening, and what it will need to have been like after we needed to begin utilizing refrigerated morgue vehicles, and what it was wish to hold coming again to work. How did he get up and are available, realizing he would transfer the lifeless all day lengthy? What was it like after we thanked medical doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, workers, the cleansing crew? Did we ever thank the dispatch employees?

I requested him how his psychological well being was, what he appreciated about his job. Was it higher now that the pandemic was declining?

Column One

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Karl floored me: He stated he saved going throughout all of it as a result of he felt like when all of the mud settled, the displays have been turned off, the household had left, and the sheet was pulled over the physique, that somebody wanted to verify they nonetheless bought care. Somebody wanted to verify they have been placed on the steel gurney properly, arms positioned comfortably, toes and legs lined. Somebody wanted to take them right down to the morgue with dignity. Somebody wanted to escort them, go along with them. Somebody wanted to be their guardian.

He stated that it mattered as a result of if it was his household, he would need that for them. He felt vital, and implied that this was his mission on this battle on COVID.

I nearly misplaced it.

This sort man. This healthcare hero. When the storm was insane — when it was overflowing — he made positive our sufferers had care and dignity. How noble. How unimaginable. How shifting.

As an OBGYN, I understand how particular and sacred beginning is — however, sadly, I additionally know that so, too, is demise. It’s simply as vital to have reverence for the life leaving this world because the one coming into.

After I look again on the pandemic, there will definitely be issues I keep in mind, however I’ll always remember the dispatch workers — the unsung heroes of the pandemic. I’ll always remember Karl, the buddy, the protector, the dignified and compassionate escort of the lifeless.

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