Chicago nurse Dominique Pirotte recently lost two patients to COVID-19 in less than an hour. The experience devastated her.
After what she considers her worst day ever as a nurse, she tweeted out a picture of herself — her face lined with welts from her N95 mask — saying "my face hurts, but my heart hurts worse."
“It was just a very overwhelming day,” she says.
Pirotte, who has been a nurse for nine years, ended up in a hospital in Chicago after signing up for Illinois HELPS, a relief corps effort by the state to gather medical professionals during a public health emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic. She volunteered knowing she would likely be assigned to a hospital in critical need.
On the first day on the job, she realized her patients were some of the sickest ones. From there, “things happened very quickly,” she says, as she and the team of medical professionals tried to save two COVID-19 patients.
“You just try to kind of hold their hand and wait for the monitors to turn off and sort of be gentle and as caring as you can,” she says.
Both individuals died that morning. Pirotte says there was no time to mourn in the moment.
“There's just not time to process things because after a person dies, we have to do our postmortem care,” she says. “For these particular patients, that care is a little more intense just for infection control purposes.”
The most devastating part is the lack of loved ones physically present in the room as a COVID-19 patient dies, she says.
“When this type of thing happens, you kind of have to walk that line between being their caregiver and being a family member,” she says through tears.
The severity of the pandemic has taken a toll on health care workers across the world. Dr. Lorna Breen, a top emergency room doctor who battled to save the lives of coronavirus patients in New York City, died by suicide in April. Breen’s sister Jennifer Feist recently told NBC’s TODAY that Breen, who had coronavirus herself, was “tormented by the fact that she couldn't help more people.”
Pirotte said Breen’s story resonated with her colleagues, saying medical professionals “understand the weight” of COVID-19.
“We all have experienced death in our careers,” she says. “That's not something that we're strangers to, but this is a lot more intense and a lot more, I guess, furious.”
She says medical professionals are trying to deliver the best supportive care possible since there’s currently no cure or vaccine. This worries her as some states begin to reopen, a process Pirotte describes as “frustrating” for her to witness as a nurse.
“The thing that has been the most disheartening is how many people are just accusing me and my colleagues of lying,” she says.
After tweeting the now-viral photo of herself, she received comments saying she was a “liar” who made up the story for social media fame. Commenters raged in the replies that COVID-19 is a hoax.
“The thing that has been the most disheartening is how many people are just accusing me and my colleagues of lying."Dominique Pirotte
“It's just frustrating when people try to just smudge me by saying that because they didn't experience what I did or they weren't in the room with me or they couldn't video record me that I must have made it up,” she says.
Pirotte asks for people to heed the call of medical experts — stay at home, wear masks in public and limit exposure to others. She admits it’s hard for people to halt their normal routines, but social distancing and taking precautionary measures are “the only tools we have left” to fight the spread of the deadly virus.
This segment aired on May 4, 2020.