Stop Politicizing My Dying Patients | Opinion

I have seen hundreds of hundreds of people die over the last 20 months. I'm a traveling ICU nurse and I have spent the pandemic as an RN at hospitals in Colorado, New Jersey, and California. Of the millions of people who have contracted COVID-19 worldwide, I have treated thousands. And I have lost too many. It is the greatest threat to our patients that we will see in our lifetime.

For people who aren't in the medical profession, witnessing the tragedy every day for weeks, months, and now close to two years, it's easy to forget just how devastating it is to see the scope of lives lost. To see entire families wiped out, and those left behind stunned and grieving a loved one that they never even had the chance to say goodbye to, because of a disease so dangerous that we can't even let their families be in the same room with them and risk their own exposure.

And yet, instead of uniting around this shared national tragedy, we have seen nothing but politicization and divisiveness. On one side, you have people convinced that everything I have experienced is a hoax. And on the other side, you have people mocking those who don't take advantage of the vaccine and then find themselves sick with COVID-19.

Needless to say, that's the opposite of how medical professionals work.

A nurse in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Three Rivers Asante Medical Center speaks with a patient on September 9, 2021 in Grants Pass, Oregon. Like many hospitals in the state, Three Rivers Asante is facing their largest COVID-19 surge since the beginning of the pandemic, forcing them to operate well above capacity. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

To both sides, my message is the same: My dead patients are not a political game. Their broken families are not a hoax. And the burnt-out healthcare workers all over the U.S. and worldwide are not a lie.

And on the other side, to those who have become jaded, I urge you to have nothing but pity for all the fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, and daughters who we have lost, and the families who have been shattered from losing their loved ones—even if they chose not to protect themselves.

They deserve our sympathy and compassion. Period. It is not funny, nor is it "justice." It is a tragedy and shame on anyone who makes light of any life lost. Death is not a fitting punishment for someone who was misled or misinformed.

As someone who is simply tired of seeing people die, I am begging you to get vaccinated. I want to see my patients get better, go home, and have dinner with their families again. I want to see them smile and laugh with their families again.

And yet, the sad truth is we are no better at treating severe COVID now than we were when we all started. We have no concrete way of predicting if you will get that form of COVID. I have seen people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, genders, walks of life, and medical histories wasted away to a shell of a human before ultimately dying.

What we do have is a vaccine—one that is around 97 to 99 percent effective at preventing this form of severe COVID. We can tell that by the numbers of ICU admissions, which is the key distinction with COVID.

So please protect yourself and the people around you by getting vaccinated. I say this without judgement, in the same tone as I would say "Don't jump into traffic" or "Don't drink a liter of vodka every day." Fortunately, we don't have millions of Americans advocating jumping into traffic or overconsumption. What we do have is millions choosing not to get vaccinated.

But I am also begging those of you on the pro-vaccine side to stop with the snark, to stop with the judgements. I'm begging politicians to stop turning my dying patients into a prop. All of this politicizing is stealing lives, one by one. And we just can't afford it.

So the next time you see something on social media that makes light of the unvaccinated or calls the vaccine a hoax, please remember the thousands of medical professionals trying to save lives and daily grieving every one lost. Remember the families of those patients. And choose compassion instead.

A graduate of North Central Texas College, Zac Shepherd has been a traveling ICU nurse for the past four years. During the COVID pandemic, he has practiced as an RN at hospitals in Colorado, New Jersey, and California. Find him on Instagram @adayinzlife and Twitter @ZacShepherdRN.

The views in this article are the writer's own.