LANSING, Mich. —On the critical care floor of Sparrow Hospital, a patient named William was about to get a birthday surprise.
With cupcake in hand, one nurse turned to the others.
“You ready?” she asked.
“Let’s do it,” another replied.
In full protective equipment, they began to push pass the heavy door.
On the other side, William, who did not want his last name or age used for privacy reasons, was celebrating his birthday Wednesday. He’s been in critical care for 31 days with Covid-19 and was placed on a ventilator but recently became the first patient in 2 1/2 months to be taken off the device.
In Michigan, Covid-19 cases are rising with 324,779 confirmed cases and 8,761 deaths as of Wednesday. The medical staff at Sparrow reported 106 confirmed positive cases at their Lansing hospital. Sixteen were in critical care, and seven were on ventilators.
But this was a day for celebration. As the nurses carried the cupcake and pushed past the door, into the negative pressure room, which prevents the air inside from circulating into other areas of the hospital. They began to sing: “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear William. Happy birthday to you.”
Caregivers from across the critical care unit came together. Five of them stood side-by-side inside the room. Others stood in the hallway, peering through the glass window and singing through a speaker.
“Buenos dias!” one said.
“Happy birthday!” said another. “We got a cupcake here for you.”
The caregivers, and others like them across the country, dedicate their lives to medical care, but they often also step in as temporary families, and during the pandemic, they’ve had to do it even more than usual.
Leslie Rush, a nursing floor manager at Sparrow Hospital, said the birthday celebration was a milestone.
“It’s a step in the right direction, because we see so many of them that don’t make it,” she said.
The patients “become part of our lives,” she continued, “so the fact that it’s his birthday, and he’s here, we’re celebrating. We’re his extended family because they can’t be here.”
Over the holidays, nurses like Rush and other caregivers will give up time with their families to care for patients.
As much as they miss their own children and other loved ones, they say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You know, people see it as a holiday,” said Ashley Richmond, an environmental services technician. “But for us caregivers, if it’s a holiday, it’s just another day for us to make sure our patients are well-taken care of. We’re more than just caregivers. We become their friends.”
With that, a birthday cupcake became a small symbol of love and compassion and perhaps a glimmer of hope tailor-made for the holidays — that things can get better.