September 2022

Back to Issue 12

The COVID ward

By Rebecca Monks



I got myself through it

                                                                        and it was giving the dying man some morphine 

                                                                        so that he felt a little less like he was drowning

                                                                        and a little closer to at peace

I got myself through it

                                                                        and it was spending the 3 required minutes

                                                                        listening to a dead man’s silent chest

                                                                        in order to certify his death

                                                                        remembering how sweet he was

                                                                        wondering whether he had children (I never asked)

                                                                        how awful it is

                                                                        that they’re not here

                                                                        (he was younger than my father)

I got myself through it

and it was crying in the clean utility closet

                                                                        (you can’t use the toilets here, 

it’s an infection risk)

I got myself through it

                                                                        and it was being honest with the woman

who asks me how bad this virus really is

from 0 to 100

from “will I ever leave this place”

to “will I see my family again”

it’s being truthful

which is to say, uncertain

it’s telling her that bed 3 had been ready for discharge

the day before his lungs gave up

telling her about the vaccinated, and the unvaccinated, and the healthy, and the obese

and how none of this information

makes it any easier to predict

I got myself through it

                                                                        and it was trading stories with the nurses

                                                                        about which patients made it out of ICU

                                                                        and which did not


‘it’s a shame’


‘such a lovely person’

I got myself through it

                                                                        even when too many people were made palliative

                                                                        to be able to tell them apart

                                                                        and the last half of the ward round

                                                                        felt like a silent prayer

                                                                        to please let them go peacefully

                                                                        and for the next one who takes their place

                                                                        to be a little less sick

                                                                        even when the afternoons 

                                                                        became press conferences 

                                                                        with all the families of the dying

                                                                        and can you please put me on speaker phone,

                                                                        because I don’t have time to repeat this

                                                                        and no you can’t come in

                                                                        the hospital has rules for a reason,

                                                                                                                                    I think

I got myself through it

                                                                        and it meant still turning up to work

                                                                        even when I hadn’t slept

                                                                        and my nose hurt

                                                                        and my body hurt

                                                                        and my heart hurt

                                                                        and I was so,




We all did.

We all do.

And mostly, it isn’t beautiful.

Or fulfilling.

Or heroic.

It just is.

(I saw more people die

in 4 weeks on the covid ward

than I have in my entire life,

and every one of them was surrounded by only strangers.

There is truly something unnatural

about saying goodbye 

through an ipad.)