Rachel Waag; Jeffrey B. Teitler, MFA, photographer


October 07, 2020

Editor's note: In an effort to preserve the experiences of healthcare workers on the front lines, Medscape developed a set of artistic portraits of hospital practitioners who worked (and are working) through this pandemic. These images are accompanied by a short essay written by the participants that gives us a glimpse of their experience.

Rachel Waag: In Her Own Words

Watching from the hall, I see the code. A nurse presses the assist button and the rush begins. I run to the gear: the N95, surgical mask, goggles, face shield, gown, gloves.

In front of me, another tech is doing compressions. I'm next. It always looks brutal, the rapid pounding of the chest, but it's not.

I'm only masks away from COVID exposure and will soon engage the full force of my physicality to help.

I step up. My hands get in position and the pit in my stomach dissipates. As I start compressions, all other thoughts stop; getting enough depth with rapid pumps is my only focus.

For a second, I glance at the patient's face. I am aware that this is their most critical time — and mine. I am the reason their blood is circulating. I try harder.

I don't want to give up, even though those minutes of CPR seem like forever. I feel my breathing get heavy. I sweat, and my nose runs from breathing the same air. My energy drains but I continue until the pause.

The time is brief. There is tension. We all hope for a pulse. Sometimes it doesn't happen.

The staff and I take a moment. Waves of sadness crash over us.

To say that I am not haunted would be untrue. It's a lot to handle. I tell myself that these patients lived a great life and that we all have a time when life must end.

When my time ends, I want to know that I did the best I could. I have no regrets.

Jeffrey B. Teitler is a professor of filmmaking at Central Connecticut State University and the director of Envision Films. His scripted and nonscripted works have been presented nationwide, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations, and his work has been an official selection and/or winner at a number of film festivals.

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