Grinnellian Covid Experiences - Bethwel Raore ’01

“I see patients take their last breath without those who love them surrounding them.”

June 24, 2020 — Bethwel Raore ’01 is a neurosurgeon in North Atlanta, Georgia.

Bethwel Raore ’01
    Bethwel Raore ’01

In mid-March, we all knew COVID-19 was starting to ravage the country. My hospital was already seeing patients, but because I’m not a pulmonary critical care or infectious disease physician, I didn’t quite see myself as a frontline worker. All the elective surgeries were stopped. All we did were cases of brain and spine trauma or cancer — those that couldn’t wait.

One evening, when I was on call for neurosurgical trauma, there was a major accident on the interstate. I came in to evaluate a patient who had multiple spine fractures from that accident. His fractures threatened disability, so we had to rush him to the operating room. I knew the patient was from an accident, so I didn’t think much about COVID-19.

We performed surgery and took care of the patient with all the precautions required by the hospital at that time, but there was some comfort in my mind that he wasn’t a COVID-19 patient, and he wasn’t hospitalized in the ICU that was designated specifically for COVID-19 patients.

Two days later, he was still on the ventilator, and a CT of his chest revealed findings that were characteristic of COVID-19. His test came back positive a few days later, and he was transferred to the appropriate ICU. After several days, he died.

That gave me a wake-up call: COVID-19 was everywhere, and anyone could have it.

These days, one major change for me is talking to patient families. Discussing end-of-life issues in my profession is a daily occurrence. It is the hardest and most important work I do. To be able to convey information that is not positive, but to express care, concern, and empathy is a sacred event. It is something I cherish, given its importance.

Since COVID-19, not being able to sit with a patient and their families face-to-face has been uncomfortable. It breaks my heart to hear wails and cries on the other end of the phone. I can’t be there to hug them or sit silently with them as they absorb the news.

It has been difficult seeing patients take their last breath without those who love them surrounding them.

I am a believer of the gospel of Christ. I believe there is a purpose for everything, even if that purpose may elude me. At this time, I am supposed to be here. I am supposed to be making a difference. I am supposed to be making the world better. Those are my thoughts when I wake up and go to sleep.

Read more stories about Grinnellians facing COVID-19 head-on.