Gift of the Givers - To The Ones We Couldn't Save: COVID ICU Nurse Writes Heartbreaking Open Letter
Photo Cred: Nursing Times

“To the ones, we couldn’t save; I am sorry. So very sorry. I am sorry that the best we did wasn’t enough for you.”


Global (22 December 2020) – Sarah Debes McQuay – a COVID ICU nurse from Seattle Washington – is going viral globally with her message to the “Ones We Couldn’t Save”.

She has written many posts that have been shared across the globe. The “exhausted Nurse” just wants to get the pandemic under control.

In November she begged everyone to wear masks and physical distance as much as possible.

“I beg of you, please, your health care workers are exhausted. We are exhausted being in a room with your loved one in their final moments with a slew of support staff running us medications and supplies while you watch in a chair from the other side of the glass door, which I can only imagine looks like a horror movie. You are denied last touches, hugs, words of love with your family member. You aren’t there to offer comfort and transition to help your family member to the other side. They aren’t alone, but they are not with you.”

And her most recent post is a poignant letter to people who have not survived the virus.

Read it below:

“To the ones, we couldn’t save; I am sorry. So very sorry.

I am so sorry this virus damaged your body past the ability for us to repair it. I am sorry that the best we did wasn’t enough for you.

You were a patient in our unit for a long time, much longer than most patients we have. You asked us about our families, our children, and the events of the world. You asked us how our days off were. We showed off our kids, and you proudly showed your family to us as well. We became friends.

We watched you fight. We watched you grow weaker and weaker, yet your spirit remained intact. You didn’t want to ‘be a bother’ to the staff. When we walked by the glass doors because your vitals were bad, you would flash a thumbs-up sign to us, letting us know you were fine and we could stop worrying.

But you weren’t. You were getting tired. We, the doctor, your nurse and you, decided it was time to let you rest. You were thankful because you were exhausted. So we intubated you and put you on the ventilator. And you relaxed and rested. You were still able to make jokes about cheesy Hallmark movies. You still laughed and interacted with us, but you were able to rest.

And time passed, and then the ventilator wasn’t enough. We watched your labs get worse; your’ critical but stable’ condition started to deteriorate even more. Every interaction with you came with the heavyweight that we knew you were getting worse, yet we offered hope for you. We whispered in your ear to keep fighting, to rest, and let us stand over you. You nodded, squeezed our hands, and rested. And we left the room and cried. We knew that time was limited; interventions were running out, and so was the quality of life you once had.

You asked us not to let you suffer, and we did our best. We did everything.

And when it became clear your lungs wouldn’t work, we called your family and explained that your lungs were just too damaged. And currently, 5 nurses are standing in PPE waiting for your heart to stop so we can code you – because that is what is next. We were watching our friend die in front of us.

Your family had compassion and told us to let your suffering end. But not all families have that thought process. Some families cannot understand how sick you are, and push for us to continue to do everything, and don’t understand at the cellular level you cannot get oxygen into your body. And without oxygen, you cannot live.

All of this is preventable. The last month of isolation and exile from the family you love – it is all preventable. Please, I beg of you, wear masks. And if you can go there without a mask, don’t go there. The numbers continue to climb.

Some people have said to me: I wish I had not gone to <insert vacation, party, wedding, funeral here>.

Please don’t let the last chapter of your life be as a patient in the hospital.


Sarah Debes McQuay – An exhausted COVID ICU Nurse.”

McQuay added a disclaimer that this was not about any patient in particular.

“This is the scenario that is repeated over and over on my unit. These are the experiences of myself and my coworkers. Moral distress is real, and most of your nurses are suffering with it. Do your part.”

Sources: Sarah Debes McQuay – a COVID ICU nurse from Seattle Washington
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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