‘I Couldn’t Let Her Be Alone’: A Peaceful Death Amid the COVID Scourge


As her mom lay dying in a Southern California hospital in early May, Elishia Breed was dwelling in Oregon, 800 miles away, separated not solely by the distance, but in addition by the cruelty of the coronavirus.

Because of the pandemic, it wasn’t secure to go to her mother, Patti Breed-Rabitoy, who had entered a hospital alone, days earlier, with a excessive fever and different signs that have been confirmed to be brought on by COVID-19.

Breed-Rabitoy, 69, had suffered from lung and kidney illness for years however remained a significant, bubbly presence in the lives of her husband, Dan Rabitoy, and three grown kids. She was a longtime church deacon and youth chief in Reseda, California, a fan of storage gross sales, bingo video games and vintage dolls. Then got here COVID-19, seemingly contracted in late April following considered one of her thrice-weekly dialysis classes. Now she lay sedated and on a ventilator, her life ebbing, with no household by her facet.

A single mother of two younger sons, she was wrenched with guilt at not being along with her mom. “You always picture you’re going to be right by your parent’s side,” she stated.

Unlike many households of dying COVID sufferers, Breed and her household have been capable of finding some consolation in her mom’s ultimate hours due to the 3 Wishes Project, a UCLA Health end-of-life program repurposed to fulfill the calls for of the coronavirus disaster. In the U.S., the place greater than 120,000 folks have died of COVID, it’s a part of a wider push for palliative care throughout the pandemic.

At 5 p.m. on May 10, Mother’s Day, earlier than Breed-Rabitoy’s life help was eliminated, greater than a dozen relations from a number of cities and states gathered on a Zoom name to say goodbye. John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” considered one of her soft-rock ’70s favorites, performed on audio system. Online, a chaplain prayed.

Breed-Rabitoy had been deeply sedated for greater than every week, since a horrible night time when she struggled to breathe and requested medical doctors to position her on the ventilator. Confusion abounded, Breed stated. Could her mother nonetheless hear in that state? Two nights in a row, Breed requested nurses to prop a telephone close to her mother’s ear.

“I prayed with her. I sang her favorite songs. I read her the Bible,” she stated.

Finally, a nurse gently defined that her mom was too sick to get well. If they eliminated the ventilator, it might be to permit her to die.

That’s when hospital staffers described the 3 Wishes program and requested whether or not the household had any private requests for her final moments. They selected the music and the household Zoom name. Dan Rabitoy requested {that a} nurse maintain his spouse’s hand as she died.

After it was over, relations obtained keychains stamped along with her fingerprint and a replica of the electrocardiogram of the final beats of her coronary heart.

“I’m grateful to have these keepsakes,” Breed stated. “All these things have been healing.”

Dr. Thanh Neville co-founded the 3 Wishes Project at UCLA Health in 2017. Since then, the program has fulfilled almost 1,600 needs for dying sufferers in the ICU.(Courtesy of Robert Hernandez/UCLA Health)

The undertaking was developed in Canada however co-launched at UCLA Health in 2017 by Dr. Thanh Neville, an intensive care doctor who serves as 3 Wishes’ medical director. It goals to make the finish of life extra dignified and customized by fulfilling small requests for dying sufferers and their households in the ICU.

Before COVID-19, the program had granted almost 1,600 needs for greater than 450 sufferers, almost all in particular person. The deathbed situations have assorted, from music and aromatherapy at the bedside to assembly a affected person’s request for one final mai tai cocktail.

“We’ve done weddings and mariachi bands and opera singers and 20 to 30 family members who could come in and celebrate,” stated Neville, 41. “And none of this is possible anymore.”

COVID-19 has “changed everything,” stated Neville, a researcher who focuses on enhancing ICU take care of the dying. Also a clinician, she spent weeks this spring tending to noticeably in poor health COVID sufferers. Since March, her hospital system has seen greater than two dozen COVID deaths.

In the starting, guests have been strictly prohibited. Now, some might come — however many don’t.

“I would still say the majority of COVID patients die without families at their bedside,” Neville stated. “There are a lot of reasons why they can’t come in. Some are sick or old or they have small kids. A lot of people don’t want to take that risk and bring it home.”

It has been laborious to maintain 3 Wishes going throughout a time when in-person memorials and celebrations are banned and an infection management stays the major focus. Neville even needed to change the manner the fingerprint keychains have been made. Now, they’re handled with germicidal irradiation, the identical technique that lets well being care employees reuse N95 masks.

The 3 Wishes Project is obtainable when dying is imminent: Patients are enrolled after a call has been made to withdraw life-sustaining expertise or if the likelihood of dying is bigger than 95%. The program was created to assist sufferers, caregivers and clinicians navigate the dying course of in a much less medical, extra humane manner. Wishes needn’t be restricted to a few, and they are often articulated by sufferers, relations or hospital staffers.

The program relies on palliative care tenets that concentrate on the humanity of the affected person amid intensive medical care, stated Dr. Rodney Tucker, president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Seemingly small acts that honor a person life assist counter the efficiency-driven setting of the ICU, which could be dehumanizing. They’re at the core of care that has been proven to ease each angst for the dying and grief for individuals who liked them. “It helps the family that’s left behind cope more successfully with the loss,” he stated.

Such efforts additionally remind suppliers of the humanity of their observe, which will help them deal with the stress of witnessing dying day by day, particularly throughout one thing as extraordinary as a pandemic, he stated.

A study published by Neville and colleagues final 12 months discovered that 3 Wishes is a “transferrable, affordable, sustainable program” that advantages sufferers, households, clinicians and their establishments. They calculated that the imply price of a single want, funded by grants and donations, was $5.19.

Genevieve Arriola, 36, has been a essential care nurse for eight years. When the pandemic struck, she discovered herself juggling medical care and emotional help greater than ever. She took care of Breed-Rabitoy for 3 days straight, all the whereas speaking with the dying girl’s household.

“This was a very delicate situation for someone who is married to her for over 20 years and a daughter who was miles away in Oregon and couldn’t see her mom,” she stated.

She was additionally the nurse who held Breed-Rabitoy’s hand as she died.

“I pretty much felt honored to be that person,” Arriola stated. “I couldn’t let her be alone. If no one can be there, I can.”

Weeks after her mom’s dying, Breed is grappling with the loss. The final time she noticed her mother was March 16, at a McDonald’s off Interstate 5 close to Grants Pass, Oregon.

The pair met for lower than 30 minutes earlier than Breed-Rabitoy headed south down the interstate, her long-planned household go to minimize brief by considerations about COVID. She had simply discovered that the native dialysis heart was closed to exterior sufferers, and she or he was anxious about rising reviews of an infection and dying. “She told me, ‘I feel like this disease is coming after me,’” Breed recalled.

Now, the keepsakes from 3 Wishes are positioned the place Breed can see them each day.

“It added such a level of love and dignity we weren’t expecting,” she stated. “It made the process of losing a loved one to COVID-19 so much more bearable.”