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‘Alpha and Omega’: ICU nurse joins in hymn as her COVID-19 patient dies

NEW YORK (BP) — As her COVID-19 patient lay dying, intensive care nurse Idara Inokon began singing a version of “Alpha and Omega” with the patient’s wife, who joined by FaceTime.

“Despite she was looking at her husband intubated, sedated … his heart holding on, we were able to just kind of worship God in that moment, and I was with him when he passed. It was heartbreaking, because he was only 45,” Inokon said. “I can see that we really did everything possibly imaginable to try to save his life, and we couldn’t. And in the end, we just had to give it into the hands of God.”

Idara Inokon (pronounced E-dare-ah E-NO-kon) has seen numerous patients die of the coronavirus while working in the intensive care unit of New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in the nation’s COVID-19 epicenter.

“Out of all the songs to sing in that moment, she sang ‘Alpha and Omega,’ God you are the first and the last,” Inokon said of the wife’s choice of a song popularized by gospel artist Israel Houghton. “So, ‘You were the first when I got married, and you are the last, until death do us part. I’m still going to honor you with that.’ It was just powerful. Absolute powerful, and we cried.”

The experience is one of many overwhelming recent moments for the member of The Bridge Church in Brooklyn. Inokon, who holds the title of 2017 Miss Nigeria USA, has relied on faith and grace to survive serving on the front line during the pandemic that has driven some health care workers to suicide.

“I know that it’s been the grace of God that has kept me, kept me positive, kept me being a team player and not giving in to fear or anxiety,” she said. “My anchoring scripture at the beginning of all this was 2 Chronicles 20:1-3 [KJV], where it said that King Jehoshaphat was afraid of the army that was about to attack him, but he set himself to fear the Lord. He set himself to call a fast in the land and to bring the people’s attention towards the Lord, because he knew it was only from the Lord where he would get the wisdom of how to operate, how to function, how to thwart the attack.”

Inokon works two jobs; fulltime as an intensive care nurse and part time as a nurse practitioner. She’s also working to grow the nonprofit organization she founded in 2018, Be Well Foundation, helping less fortunate communities in the U.S. and Nigeria, her father’s homeland.

“It’s just something I’ve been taking one day at a time, lots of prayer,” Inokon said. “I write out my feelings when I feel like I can, when I can articulate them, and then just giving myself grace to feel however I feel throughout the process.”

Inokon said she has seen a death rate of 80 percent among COVID-19 patients on ventilators in the pandemic, which has resulted in approximately 23,000 deaths in New York state, nearly half of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths. She added there’s no room for medical error during the pandemic, as several patients might “code” or require immediate lifesaving care simultaneously. She must make critical decisions without hesitation, and sees little room to encourage the sick emotionally.

“The patients we take care of are sedated and intubated. Most of our patients have died, but the patients we were able to extubate [remove from intubation], it’s mostly being supportive to their families, whether it’s a phone conversation, facilitating FaceTime conversations or the like,” she said, “but just really being there to support family.”

Before COVID-19, Inokon had never seen anything like the current hospital climate.

“Unfortunately, people are dying alone, and it’s sad,” she said. “We’ve never seen anything like this, period. I can’t even sugarcoat it. Never. None of my [fellow] nurses who’ve worked for 20 years, no one’s seen anything like this.

“Maybe other places in the country don’t feel as impacted by this,” she said, “but for us, it’s absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience.”

She covets prayers.

“I can tell I’ve probably fared better because people are praying for me.”