Extraordinary San Diegans: ICU Nurse Becomes Comfort for Isolated Patients

“I whispered to him shortly before he passed that he had a wonderful family. I said that I was happy that I got to meet him and that he and my dad would have a lot to talk about and that they should chat"

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As Diane Ward sat by his bedside, she knew her patient wasn’t going to make it through the day.

Ward is a COVID-19 ICU nurse at Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa, who has been struck by how isolating it can be for those who are infected with the disease.

"I told many people that the part that struck me the most, and the hardest really within my first day of caring for these patients, was the fact that there are no families at the bedside," Ward said.

She says as a nurse, it’s important to use best practices and to set up boundaries when it comes to patients. But the challenge is doing that when dealing with a disease that takes the lives of so many that enter her care.

Ward saw the ups and downs of her patient, who was in 80s, on a daily basis. She became one of his only points of contact, lending an ear as he fought through his disease. He let her know that he wanted to continue fighting.  

“I had two days off and then came back and unfortunately his kidneys were just not doing well,” Ward said. “His family made the decision that he wouldn't want to live like this for very long.”

Being in this fight with this disease was not what Diane Ward thought she would be doing today. Just a few years ago she was in a completely different profession, as a manager in the printing industry.

But medicine was not far from her mind.  

Her father was a physician, her mother was a nurse and her sister was a nurse practitioner. So it seemed only natural -- that at the age of 30 and in need of a career change -- Ward chose nursing. 

She said that after her first anatomy class, she was hooked.  Now, years later, she starts her shift by putting on layers of protective gear to see patients.  She’s in the middle of the battle of a disease that the medical profession is trying to understand on a daily basis.

“New information is coming out constantly, new symptoms, new aspects of this virus. So not only is it a pandemic but it's endemic with something that we are learning about as we experience it," Ward said.

And as Ward is learning about the disease and treating those who are struggling to stay alive, she sees the very human side of the new coronavirus.

While treating her patient, she was reminded of her late father; something about him pulled at her heartstrings.

Since his own family could not be by his side, she would communicate with them, sharing stories and keeping them updated on his conditions. But as her patient began to lose his battle, she was able to lean in and offer one last message.

“I whispered to him shortly before he passed that he had a wonderful family,” said Ward as she held back tears remembering her conversation. “I said that I was happy that I got to meet him and that he and my dad would have a lot to talk about and that they should chat.”

Ward is one of the many San Diegans who go to work and do all they can to help in this very difficult time. She says that she understands that people are growing tired of the stay at home orders and that she, like many others want to get back to life as we know it. But she thinks the orders are working. As difficult as it may be for everyone to be out of their routine, she sees first-hand that social distancing is working.

“I know this quarantine is difficult for people in so many ways but it does seem, from my perspective,  like it is doing its job and we just need to kind of keep our eye on the prize.”

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