Edward Etchells is a staff physician in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
I am doing weekend COVID rounds, covering for my colleague. I see a patient with confirmed COVID-19 pneumonia. Why is there a name alert sticker on his hospital chart? I double check my list. There is no one else on the COVID ward with his last name. I try to pull the name alert off the chart. It is stuck tight.
I see him on rounds. Everything is improving. The temperature is normal. The blood pressure is normal. The oxygen saturation is improving.
I protect myself and enter his room. He looks isolated. He is sitting alone on the side of his bed. He is turned away from the sun. The oxygen tubing disappears into the shadow of his face.
“Good morning. How are you doing today? I think you are getting better.”
“My breathing is better today.” A long pause.
“My wife died yesterday. She was here too.“
I leave the name alert on the chart. It is stuck tight.
David Gary Smith MD
Thank you. Walker Percy wrote about the explication of meaning at an existential level. He called it the Delta Factor. Your story capture its essence. It is a level of meaning that may be lost on most in this pandemic but certainly has been true for a long time in medicine. Thank you for bringing it back to the surface
Thank you for caring Dr. Etchells. Please keep up the good work. You are at the nexus of medical science, epidemiological statistics which hopefully plays into common sense in our return to a functioning society.