COVID-19 ICU Nurse: 'I was the one holding his hand while he died, and not his family.'

Austyn Stallings
Posted at 7:10 AM, Jan 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-10 08:10:54-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In a video posted by Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Facebook, a COVID-19 ICU nurse described the revolving door that has become her unit.

"I've had patients die before," said Austyn Stallings in the video. "I work in the ICU. I've had many patients die before, but... these patients are different."

Stallings, 25, works every other week in the COVID-19 ICU.

"Knowing that you're not going to be by yourself or stranded, [that] you have your coworkers there and the physicians and your team, I think that's what's really helped us last this long," she said.

For nearly ten months, Stallings has been at the bedside of sick and dying COVID-19 patients. In the Facebook video, she discussed the demise of her first COVID-19 patient.

"I remember walking into work that morning and seeing his family outside of his hospital room. They had gotten called in because he wasn't looking good. I had just clocked in, and then all of a sudden his blood pressure started to tank. I ran into the room to try to increase his medication and I remember calling out for help in the hallway because I didn't know what else to do, I didn't know what else to do for this patient," she said in the video.

Her patient did not survive the day.

"The decision was made to withdraw life support.. and I was the one that disconnected his dialysis machine. I was there to turn off all his medications, all while his family was out in the hallway watching me do all of this. It was me in there alone... I was holding this man's hand while he died. I kept telling him over and over again your wife is here, your sons are here, and they love you. And I was the one holding his hand while he died, and not his family."

Stallings said she tries not to bring work home to her family, but the seriousness of her job hits her sometimes when she is alone.

"You know, driving in the car you hear a song on the radio, it makes you think, someone dies in the song and you think of a patient you have, and you break down in the car," she said.

Stallings said she is thankful for the support her profession is receiving. However, actions speak louder than words.

"Really, all we want is for people to be conscientious. You know, we're called front-line workers, but honestly we're kind of last-line workers. The front-line workers are people out in the community that go about their daily jobs and things like that. Everyone else is front-line. We're kind of last line, which is important for people to understand," she said.

In her interview, Stallings described that the hospital is not where anyone wants to end up.

"We'll take great care of you, but... you don't want to be hospitalized with COVID. You don't want to have to come and see us," she said.

Stallings asks that everyone follow the recommendations: wash your hands, social distance and wear a mask.