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Shari Para, a nurse at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, at her home in Tinley Park.
Shari Para, a nurse at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, at her home in Tinley Park.
Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

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When a coronavirus patient has no one else, a suburban Chicago nurse holds her hand and prays with her

‘We’re getting back to the basics of patient care,’ says Shari Para, who works with COVID-19 patients at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, even if that’s just to hold their hands and pray.

The 69-year-old woman’s blood oxygen had dropped to worrying levels.

If she got much worse, she’d have to go on a ventilator, her nurse Shari Para told her. The patient, a married mother of two, told Para she was afraid. She didn’t know if she could face being intubated.

Para, assigned to coronavirus patients at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, held out her hand, and she prayed with her.

“I had to be her loved one because she didn’t have anybody with her to tell her that it was going to be OK,” said Para, taking a short break from a 12-hour shift.

Such is the life of a nurse in the trenches of this pandemic — where patient care has become more complex and, at the same time, starkly straightforward.

“We’re getting back to the basics of patient care, just knowing that our patients need us for everything — whether it’s to hold their hand and pray, feed them or assess them more frequently,” said Para, 37, who is married and has two small children.

And so Para — donning scrubs, goggles, a hair bonnet, shoe covers, an N95 mask and a surgical one — gets to work in a hospital that was at capacity for non-intensive care coronavirus cases, with 40 patients.

“This is an illness that we’re all going to get over together,” said Para, who lives in Tinley Park. The patients “are still people. I still have to do my job. I took an oath to take care of people.”

At home, she avoids the news and takes refuge in family life.

“We still really love bubbles in our house,” said Para, whose children are 2 and 3 years old.

Para grew up Catholic but isn’t particularly religious. She doesn’t go to church. But she knew what she needed to do when she saw the fear in her patient’s eyes.

Para stayed late that day last weekend to make sure the woman got to intensive care and was “comfortable.”

“She actually told me she loved me when I left,” Para said.

Later, Para asked an ICU doctor about the woman. She was still in the unit but not on a ventilator, the doctor told her.

“If I get time, I’ll go down and see her,” Para said.

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