Boise State Public Radio recently featured Sara McDonald a nurse in the telemetry — or cardiac — unit at St. Luke's in Boise. She has been on the front line of the COVID pandemic here locally since the beginning.

After a long and particularly difficult shift at St. Luke's Sara went home and went to bed.  When she woke up she said she could still feel a lump of stress in her throat and she started typing a poem. For Sara the poem just flooded out. She needed to share what health care workers are going through.

She told Boise State Public radio, "We're in a war zone three days a week, and then the other four days of the week, we're expected to just go back to normal social life and attend gatherings and, you know, meet friends at the park and go to barbecues. And it's just not a flip you can switch."


Here is Sara McDonalds Poem:

By Sara McDonald

I am a covid veteran
This is a different kind of war
A war some don’t believe in
A war some mock, a “hoax”

The trauma is real
The dying is real
Running down the halls one room after another
“put your mask back on”
“stop pulling on lines”
“You have to keep your mask on”
“Your daughter is coming in the morning, don’t you want to see her?”
The goal is to keep that one alive
“long enough”
For his daughter to be here when they turn the oxygen off.
“Let’s just get him to morning.”

There's that name I will never forget
the first in a growing line,
they declined for a time the use of their O2 device
I had to take it
I gave it to another, “more likely to survive”
This one lives
That one dies

They all suffer

The look in their eyes
As they learn the rules of an unfamiliar game
From room air to nasal cannula
NC to oxymask
Max it out
“I can’t breathe!”

I know you can’t breathe

I know

“I know it’s uncomfortable,”
“I know it’s blasting air in your face.”
“I’ll gladly take it off, just do me a favor,
change your code status first.”
“I have a line of people waiting for that machine, if you aren’t going to keep it on”
“I need you to change your code status first”
“What else can be done?”
“Intubation is next”

That look on their face

“That’s where we are”

The look on their face
“That’s where you’re at now”

The look on their face
“This machine doesn’t go any higher”
“Intubation is next”

You don’t like that option

You didn’t realize

None of them realize

They would be so acutely aware
at the moment facing that decision

I stand anxious,
I need them to make it faster
I realize what a cruel thing my impatience in this moment is, but
I need them to make it
I have another one crumping three doors down

I am still not able to be more places than one, at any given time,
Much as I try
As if I want to share my time between two atrocious scenes


“I want this off my face. It’s blasting me!”
“I can’t breathe!”

ok “I need you to understand what will happen if I take that off.”
No sugar coating,
no lies,
no time for gentle deliveries

First you’ll panic, gasping for air
You’ll be agitated.
You’ll start pulling at lines, and thrashing about like a fish out of water
In this case, a fish suffocating at the bottom of an ocean of air,
Surrounded by it, yet out of reach

The panic

We’ll hold onto you,
Mitts if we must
keep you from hurting yourself on equipment
manage self-damage
You’ll struggle
You’ll ask for the equipment back, but it’s already been cleaned,
passed onto the next

You’ll grow tired
You’ll thrash less
You’ll stop talking
You’ll shift to a soft blue hue
You’ll fall asleep,
so tired,
just a rest
The blue will deepen

You’re not done, but you’re holding still,

Onto the next

Someone else is crashing
Pulling on lines
“Take slow deep breaths”
“Keep them slow”
“Try not to panic” (are you telling them, or yourself?)
“Try not to panic. Take some slow deep breaths.”
Back to the previous room

Agonal breathing, sporadic, gasp
A deeper blue
They’re still alive

On to the next…

On to the next…
On to the next…

On to the next, until morning

We just have to make it ‘til morning
We just have to make it, while mourning
We just have to make it, still mourning

We just have to make it
Onto the next

By Sara McDonald


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