Allina Health nurse uses poetry to honor health care workers comforting patients in final hours

More than 3,300 Minnesotans have died since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In their final moments, nurses and other health care workers have been there to hold their hands, with many loved ones unable to visit due to restrictions.

A poem written by an Allina Health nurse has now been shared hundreds of times on social media. It’s dedicated to all of those health care workers who have been with their patients as they die.

Erin Pommeranz describes the depths of the pandemic and the compassion of health care workers as they help loved ones say ‘goodbye’ over the phone.

"Being the nurse at the bedside, being the one holding your loved one’s hand and not the son or the daughter has really impacted us," she said.

Pommeranz said it’s a reflection of their daily work and also a tribute to the first COVID patient she worked with whose loved ones couldn’t be there in person to say ‘goodbye.’ She said she felt immense grief as she wrote it.

"For the whole situation, that I was FaceTiming the grandchildren to say their goodbyes and just the grief they had felt through this time that they couldn’t say goodbye, just an overwhelming sense of sadness," she said.

Pommeranz is a hospice nurse. She said writing helps her process the heavy moments. This is the first time she’s shared her poetry.

She wrote the poem in April and submitted it to an Allina Health hospice newsletter.

"It kind of took off after that," said Pommeranz, explaining it was shared throughout the system.

This week, Allina Health created a video of the poem and posted it to their Facebook page.

"It just brought to words to life and just really captured the full experience," she said.

In the seven months since Pommeranz wrote the poem, the pandemic has surged again.

"It’s an honor to do this, I love my work," she said. "We’re being asked to do a lot, the hours are increasing, our caseloads are increasing and there’s no real end in sight so it’s wearing on all of us."

She said she’s especially seeing the toll at nursing homes where both COVID-positive and non-COVID patients are confined to their rooms.

"Unfortunately, families can’t, aren’t able to visit because of the precautions that are needed at the facility and for the greater public," said Pommeranz. "People are dying alone and that is what is happening now, at this day, at a greater rate."

Pommeranz said she hopes those who watch the video reflect on the impact the pandemic is having on health care workers, patients and their loved ones.

"As a parent, it’s such an honor to be there when your child is born and to see them breathe their first breath, and as a grown adult it’s equally an important honor to say ‘goodbye’ to your parent, too, with their last breath and that honor is being taken away," she said. "I hope people take away from this poem the impact COVID is having, how it’s impacting our moms and dads and grandmothers and grandfathers very greatly. And to be vigilant, and to wear the mask, and to social distance and to do everything we can to protect those we love the most."

You can watch the video here.

COVID-19 by Allina Health nurse Erin Pommeranz (Source: Allina Health Facebook page):

Gown, mask, goggles, gloves.
I enter your mother’s room.
The room where she will take her last breath.
I dial your number, my hands shaking.
“Calm and comfortable,”
The words I use to carefully describe her to you.
You let out a sigh of relief.
Over the phone,
Through the camera lens,
One last time
you see her brown, loving eyes that once filled the room with sparkle and joy.
You see her soft hands that once cradled you as a child.
You see your mother, frail and weak.
Her body is ready.
You are not.
“It’s not fair,” you say through tears.
I agree, my tears and breath clouding the goggles.
A stranger, with purple gloves on, holds your mother’s hand in her final moments,
Not her son of 63 years.
The virus took her life,
took the honor of loved ones gathering.
Of singing her favorite hymn, Borning Cry,
Of sharing that memory of when she burnt the Thanksgiving Day pie,
Of having you be the one to tuck the blanket under her feet, just how she likes.
She breathes in one last time.
We share our tears together,
Honoring the grief,
The heaviness of this moment.
We pause in the stillness,
Letting her spirit go.
Deep breath.
I push the small, red circle and we disconnect.
Remove gloves, goggles, mask, gown.