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Idaho nurse sets tragic hospital scene with powerful poem

As a cardiac nurse at St. Luke's Health System, Sara McDonald has seen the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BOISE, Idaho — The scene inside Idaho hospitals remains extremely challenging amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a cardiac nurse for St. Luke's Health System, Sara McDonald has seen the worst of the worst over the last year and a half.

“Seeing one horrible thing, one horrible traumatic thing and a lot of deaths after another, after another, after another, after another, and you just kind of have to go, 'Okay, well, I still have three sick patients I got to get to,'" McDonald said. "So you can’t really stop and process it in the time. So it’s just one trauma after another, after another, after another, after another, and it just keeps going and you literally just keep going on to the next."

Outside of work at the hospital, McDonald is passionate about her work as a sculptress. Her creations are crafted carefully, every move made with purpose.

“We come here to make messes. Sometimes pieces of artwork, definitely messes,” McDonald laughed.

McDonald is also known as the Sculptress Saratops and has an impressive collection of pieces crafted from materials like copper and burnt wood. She takes great care locking in the emotional arc for each individual piece.

“My work is hugely, emotionally charged,” she explained.

The emotions she works through in her studio and at the hospital are vastly different spaces for McDonald. So far, she hasn’t created a piece based on the pandemic, and she may never. Her studio work is focused on other emotions.

“This place for me has been almost better than counseling," McDonald said. "I get to come here, my studio mates will check on me and say like, 'Hey, how are you doing?' If I need to talk, we can talk. If I don’t want to talk, I just work on my projects in my corner."   

There is one piece of art that did lock into her emotions as a frontline healthcare worker: a poem full of raw emotion.

“The night before I wrote that poem was the hardest night I’ve ever had,” McDoanld said. “Running from room to room, one after another, for seven hours straight. Just putting out house fires. I woke up and that knot was still in my throat. So I just sat down at my computer and did a free write, which is where you just write your thoughts as they come out and there is no editing, there is no spell check. Just getting them out as fast as you can and that’s what happened. I felt a little bit better."

Her poem resonated with frontline healthcare workers after she shared it online, many sharing it themselves. McDonald said the reception so far has been great, but she does fear the backlash other members of the medical community have had in recent months.

“There is a lot of backlash for the medical community right now, which is unfortunate because any of those people that are participating in that backlash, when they get sick, we will still care for them,” McDonald said.

Frontlines healthcare workers and medical leaders continue to encourage the community to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. To frontline workers seeing horrifying scenes every single day, McDonald said this isn’t political; it’s about saving lives.

“I don’t care what your politics are, I don’t care if you are right or left. I just want you to get vaccinated," she said. "And not because I enjoy telling people what to do, but I think that we can prevent so much trauma and so many deaths and prevent so much pain in our community by doing a really simple thing."

Below is McDonald's full poem:

By Sara McDonald

I am a COVID veteran

This is a different kind of war

A war some don’t believe in

A war some mock, a “hoax”

The trauma is real

The dying is real

Running down the halls one room after another

“put your mask back on”

“stop pulling on lines”

Mitts

“You have to keep your mask on”

“Your daughter is coming in the morning, don’t you want to see her?”

The goal is to keep that one alive

“long enough”

For his daughter to be here when they turn the oxygen off.

“Let’s just get him to morning.”

There's that name I will never forget

the first in a growing line,

they declined for a time the use of their O2 device

I had to take it

I gave it to another, “more likely to survive”

This one lives

That one dies

They all suffer

The look in their eyes

As they learn the rules of an unfamiliar game

From room air to nasal cannula

NC to oxymask

Non-rebreather

Highflo

Bipap

Max it out

“I can’t breathe!”

I know you can’t breathe

I know

“I know it’s uncomfortable,”

“I know it’s blasting air in your face.”

“I’ll gladly take it off, just do me a favor,

change your code status first.”

“I have a line of people waiting for that machine, if you aren’t going to keep it on”

“I need you to change your code status first”

“What else can be done?”

“Intubation is next”

That look on their face

“That’s where we are”

The look on their face

“That’s where you’re at now”

The look on their face

“This machine doesn’t go any higher”

“Intubation is next”

You don’t like that option

You didn’t realize

None of them realize

They would be so acutely aware

cognizant

oriented

at the moment facing that decision

I stand anxious,

waiting

I need them to make it faster

I realize what a cruel thing my impatience in this moment is, but

I need them to make it

faster

I have another one crumping three doors down

I am still not able to be more places than one, at any given time,

Much as I try

As if I want to share my time between two atrocious scenes

So?

“I want this off my face. It’s blasting me!”

“I can’t breathe!”

ok

“I need you to understand what will happen if I take that off.”

No sugar coating,

no lies,

no time for gentle deliveries

First you’ll panic, gasping for air

You’ll be agitated.

You’ll start pulling at lines, and thrashing about like a fish out of water

In this case, a fish suffocating at the bottom of an ocean of air,

Surrounded by it, yet out of reach

“WATER WATER EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK.”

The panic

We’ll hold onto you,

Mitts if we must

keep you from hurting yourself on equipment

manage self-damage

You’ll struggle

You’ll ask for the equipment back, but it’s already been cleaned,

passed onto the next

You’ll grow tired

You’ll thrash less

You’ll stop talking

You’ll shift to a soft blue hue

You’ll fall asleep,

so tired,

just a rest

The blue will deepen

You’re not done, but you’re holding still,

Onto the next

Someone else is crashing

Thrashing

Pulling on lines

“Take slow deep breaths”

“Keep them slow”

“Try not to panic” (are you telling them, or yourself?)

“Try not to panic. Take some slow deep breaths.”

Stable

Back to the previous room

Agonal breathing, sporadic, gasp

A deeper blue

They’re still alive

On to the next…

On to the next…

On to the next…

On to the next, until morning

We just have to make it ‘til morning

We just have to make it, while mourning

We just have to make it, still mourning

We just have to make it

Onto the next

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