More Than a Statistic: A Nurse’s Experience with COVID-19 Loss

As a nurse practitioner Katie Arneson has witnessed numerous family members and patients who have had to battle with COVID-19, including her own dad who died because of the virus. Handling loss is never easy, but it is a part of a job that many of our health care workers face every day on a professional and personal level. For Katie, her perspective as a well-seasoned ICU nurse and nurse practitioner, was forever changed when COVID-19 hit close to home. She removed any hesitation she had about getting the vaccine and now encourages people to get it when it’s available.

Katie’s dad, James Pavlicek Sr., was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July 2020. During his third trip to the emergency department, it quickly became evident how serious the situation was when he became increasingly short of breath, experienced an altered mental status and required oxygen support. Communication was challenging, as no visitors were allowed in the hospital and his shortness of breath prevented him from speaking cohesively.

“It was hard not being able to communicate but we knew that my dad was getting the best possible care,“ said Katie, an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) in Heart and Vascular who sees patients at both Founders and Providence, part of The Everett Clinic system in Washington state. “We were thankful for the phone calls we would get from a doctor or nurse to learn how he was doing.”

As his condition deteriorated in the ICU, his lungs became fibrotic and Jim’s ICU doctor recommended palliative care. Within only two weeks after experiencing his first complications from Covid-19, his illness reached a point Jim could no longer bear.

“Dad told Mom he didn’t want any more of this, so Mom agreed with the medical staff to make him comfortable, and once the oxygen was taken away, he soon passed away peacefully,” said Katie. “He was ultimately lifted up by the wings of his eternal angel. It was very hard for myself and all of my family members, because we couldn’t be with him when he needed us the most.”

By sharing her story, Katie hopes that others struggling with the personal toll of the pandemic might find solace, and that her experience from both a patient and provider perspective demonstrates the need for vaccine delivery and compassionate care. 

Vaccines and hope on the horizon

Katie’s father is one of the more than 500,000 American lives lost since the pandemic struck the U.S. in early 2020. The influx of vaccines brings hope and relief while, at the same time, there exists a heavy sense of loss wrought by the pandemic.

But Katie didn’t want her dad to become a number, a pandemic statistic. For Katie, it is important for health care workers to remember that they are somebody to someone, and everyone is important. Her experience on the patient side with her father has since reinforced the importance of making daily calls to family members of those who are hospitalized within her own work.

“Whether you are a medical professional, friend, family member, or neighbor, we can help people affected by COVID feel special, especially by reminding them that we’re all human and there for one another,” said Katie. “As providers, patients can look at us like we’re untouchable, infallible. But truly, we are meant to walk beside our patients.”

Like many, Katie initially expressed some reservation about the new COVID-19 vaccines. But she approached her decision to get vaccinated just as she had with the virus itself – she armed herself with information.

“We all fear something we don’t know,” said Katie. “As we gain knowledge, we become more confident to move forward in life while respecting this virus.”

Katie, determined to be a part of the solution, ultimately decided to get vaccinated. She experienced some side effects of the vaccine, including joint pain and fatigue, but asked herself, “Is this worse than not surviving the virus?” The answer for Katie was clear – vaccination was worth it to fight the virus and survive, and help protect those around her.

The pain of her family’s experience with COVID-19 is still raw, and Katie acknowledges that her grieving process has been disrupted by the hospital and state COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic. Knowing that her story might help others, and seeing the vaccines roll out, however, has helped Katie process her loss and see hope for the future.

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

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