Rebecca calls me on her day off, she sounds worn out. She speaks as eloquently as always but I can hear a strain in her voice. 4 weeks ago, Rebecca Segrest of Rome, GA. began work as a contracted ICU nurse at Columbia University Medical Center. She describes tremendous progress over the last two weeks, “We continue to adapt treatments. The good news is that things are starting to settle; we have fewer cases that require intubation.”
Segrest has seen the worst of this novel virus, yet as more and more of her patients progress from critical to stable she is torn in the stark transparent dichotomy of survival and life. She sees the efforts of herself and the other medical professionals, “ We are extremely talented in keeping people alive.” Though if asked about morale, she replies “We feel largely unsuccessful. It’s hard to get excited about going to work to keep people from dying, and not be able to help them live.”
We cling to the images of once critical patients waving as they are wheeled through hallways filled with cheering staff. We cling to hope. Segrest describes, “It’s hard to imagine the gray area. Very few are transported waving.” She often considers “What are we consenting to when we consent to treatment? Life at all costs, what does that even mean?”
Rebecca has been NYC for a month, and starting to get settled in to the neighborhood, “You know there are times I look around and feel so joyful. Here I am a girl from Valdosta, with a New York City address. I think how unimaginable it is. Last week, I rode a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge. For 5 hours I rode discovering the city. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire day, I was so grateful for the opportunity.” Quality of life is about living, experiencing new things and people. The phrase what if repeats on Segrest’s tongue, and the vitality once again returns to her voice. “What if I live here again- one day- when it is the New York we all envision, with restaurants open and people everywhere?” she imagines. It’s this paradigm of life vs. living that we all should consider for ourselves and those we love.
So as Segrest waffles through sadness and hopefulness, she calls for us to normalize the conversation What are your expectations for quality of life? with your family members. “There are worse things than death. I believe in God. One day I will be with Him, that sounds so much better than lingering.” Segrest continues to work with determination and compassion; caring for those in her charge all the while carrying the hope of peaceful decisiveness for the families affected by this disease.