‘I feel that pain with them’

‘I feel that pain with them’

Smitha Thomas clings to the hope of doing something as simple as watching TV with her parents someday. After receiving her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, that prospect seems closer than ever.

Thomas is a respiratory therapist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, where she cares for COVID-19 patients who have trouble breathing. She spends her overnight shifts providing oxygen, inhalers and other tools to patients in respiratory distress to make them as comfortable as possible.

“Sometimes you’re caring for patients for weeks and there’s no improvement,” Thomas said. “You build up a connection with this person who has been there for a long time. They’re alone, they can’t see their families, and I feel that pain with them because I’ve been alone for months.”

Because of her direct interaction with COVID-19 patients, Thomas socially distanced from her family since the pandemic began. She hasn’t seen her parents because they don’t use Zoom, so their interactions have been limited to the phone. And even though her brother also works at Good Shepherd, Thomas has kept her distance from him because he has small children. She only saw him once or twice since last March.

“I’m trying to be really careful and make sure I don’t spread anything,” Thomas said. “But it is stressful.”

Like thousands of her colleagues at Advocate Aurora Health, Thomas recently got the COVID-19 vaccine. For her, it marks the beginning of the end of the pandemic and an extremely isolating 10 months.

“I got the vaccine for my protection and to protect my family,” Thomas said. “I’ll still keep my distance and wear a mask, but it gives me hope that I’ll be able do the little things like watch TV with them or ask them how they are in person.”

Click here for more stories about doctors, nurses and others working on the front lines.


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About the Author

Katie Dahlstrom
Katie Dahlstrom

Katie Dahlstrom, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. A storyteller at her core, she is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly five years working as a public relations professional for Chicago’s commuter rail agency, Metra. Outside of work, she enjoys birding, photography and spending time with her husband and dog.