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ER Nurse on Caring for Dying COVID-19 Patients Who Don’t Believe the Virus is Real


South Dakota nurse Jodi Doering is going viral on social media for revealing how her dying patients really feel about COVID-19. While working in South Dakota, currently one of the worst hotspots for the coronavirus in the country, Doering says many of her patients continue to refuse to acknowledge the virus is real, even as it wreaks havoc on their health.

Now, she’s speaking out about her experiences on the front line in hopes that they will convince more people across the U.S. to take this pandemic seriously.

Coming to Terms with Reality in Rural America

Doering works as an ER nurse in a state where many medical facilities are nearing capacity. With over 65,000 confirmed cases, the pandemic is pushing this rural state to its limits. In terms of new cases per capita, SD is currently one of the worst in the country. It’s also leading in terms of deaths and hospitalizations per capita.

Unlike most of the rest of the country, the Dakotas were largely spared during the spring and summer when the virus first started making the rounds. After months of little to no cases with few outbreaks, the reality of the situation is finally hitting home.

Dr. Doug Griffin, chief medical officer at Sanford Medical Center in neighboring North Dakota, believes rural America didn’t take the threat seriously at first. “I think a lot of times people in rural areas feel like, ‘Hey, we’re immune to the things that happen in the big cities,'” Griffin said. “That’s clearly not the case with regards to this.”

The situation in South Dakota is quickly getting worse…so much so that nurses and other providers who have tested positive have been asked to stay on the job if they are asymptomatic.

Patients Refusing to Accept the Truth

As the virus wreaks havoc on rural America, people are still refusing to accept reality.

Over the weekend, Jodi Doering started sharing some of her patients’ thoughts and reactions to the disease on Twitter, and they quickly got a lot of attention. She called out patients who “don’t believe the virus is real … while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm.”

Picking up on the story, CNN asked Doering for more information on the subject.

Speaking on air, Doering said, “Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’ And when they should be… Facetiming their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred.”

It’s clear that these patients know they’re sick, but they seem desperate to believe it’s anything other than the virus they’ve been hearing about on the news.

Doering went on to say, “People want it to be influenza, they want it to be pneumonia. We’ve even had people say, ‘You know, I think it might be lung cancer.’ … Even after positive results come back, some people just don’t believe it.”

Pushback from Patients

Wearing a face mask and other safety gear can anger some of these patients as well. We’ve heard many reports of nurses being asked not to wear PPE on the job to avoid scaring patients. Some nurses say they are harassed or taunted for trying to stay safe.

That’s been true for Doering as well. As she wrote on Twitter over the weekend, “They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real.”

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has yet to impose a state-wide mask mandate for South Dakota, even as her state continues to make national headlines. Her communications specialist commented over the weekend, “It’s a good day for freedom. [Governor Noem] has provided her citizens with the full scope of the science and trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones.”

She says other patients will turn the exchange into one about politics.

As for Doering and her colleagues, all this misinformation and back-and-forth isn’t making her job any easier. In addition to saving lives and working around the clock, she has to spend time arguing with patients on their deathbeds.

“I think it’s just a belief that it’s not real and nursing happens to be on the receiving end of that,” Doering said. “It just makes you sad and mad and frustrated and then you know that you’re just going to come back and do it all over again.”

Just because someone gets infected with COVID-19 doesn’t mean they will accept the reality of the situation. With so much division and misinformation in the air, it’s clear that some of us are living in very different realities.  

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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