Ee Tay’s birthday wish this year was different from anything she’d asked for in the past: As the April 8 date approached, the New York City doctor asked people on Facebook to donate used iPad and other tablets that COVID-19 patients could use to say final goodbyes to loved ones.
Tay, the chief of the pediatric emergency room at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, had heard stories from colleagues of coronavirus patients dying alone in isolation wards, most of them without having said goodbye to their family and friends. (For most patients and their families, the last point of contact has been the drop-off at the hospital or the ambulance driving away.)
“Sometimes, out of desperation, my ER colleagues will use their personal phones to contact family members on their patients’ behalfs, to allow them a chance to ’see each other before passing’,” Tay told HuffPost.
But in hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients, Tay said hospital staffers are so busy taking care of other sick patients, there’s no opportunity to do that.
The doctor wanted to change that. A few days before her birthday, Tay turned to Facebook and asked people she knew to send over iPads and other tablet devices they weren’t using. Then, she told them, she’d send them off to hospitals in New York City for COVID-19 patients to use. Her goal was to collect 150 devices.
“Happy birthday to me? Sure, just send me a tablet,” she wrote in the April 2 post.
A week after posting, her birthday wish was fulfilled ― and then some.
Thanks to social media and a generous donation from the Bank of New York Mellon, Tay arranged for the donation of roughly 650 tablets to NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, including Bellevue Hospital and other local hospitals like Jacobi and Elmhurst. (The hospitals are some of the hardest hit in the country; New York state has reported more than 223,000 coronavirus cases as of Thursday, and New York City has had close to 11,500 deaths.)
“Birthday wish fulfilled!” an ecstatic Tay wrote on April 8. “You all opened your hearts and poured your generosity into my requests by sending me what you could. I received so many tablets, both new and used, which will help heal and ease the pain when patients are in the hospital.”
The hospitals are deploying the tablets in the ERs and intensive care units.
Tay told HuffPost it’s heartening to imagine how much of a gamechanger the tablets are going to be for patients.
“I think having a visual image of their loved ones using a tablet is better than a walkie-talkie or phone, especially when patients are intubated ― which means they’re using a breathing tube on a ventilator ― and are struggling to vocalize,” she said.
The tablets aren’t just for saying goodbye; they’re also a way for recovering COVID patients to keep in touch with their families while on the mend.
Tay received some Android phones, too; those will be given to hospital social workers to pass on to financially struggling families who don’t have devices to communicate with their sick loved ones.
The doctor isn’t the only one rounding up tablets for COVID patients in need.
Earlier this month, New Yorkers Laura DiMarco, Zina Ajlouny and Liz O’Rourke, an ICU nurse in Long Island, New York, started a GoFund page to raise funds to buy iPads for coronavirus patients.
The fund was created in the memory of DiMarco’s mother, Jeannie Tomaselli, a beloved Long Island nurse who died in 2016. In the last months of her life, Tomaselli relied on FaceTime on an iPad to stay in touch with her loved ones, because she was immunocompromised.
“This seems like a fitting way to carry on her legacy,” DiMarco told HuffPost. “Plus, connecting with patients and their loved ones and giving them the tools to strengthen their own connection in times of need was the part of nursing she valued the most.”
So far, the women have raised over $28,000. The first set of iPads were delivered to some of New York’s hardest-hit hospitals last week, including NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx, Montefiore Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering, NYU Winthrop Hospital and Unity Hospital in Rochester. At the end of this week, the group is scheduled to make deliveries to 10 more hospitals.
The iPads that have already made it into ICU rooms are going to good use, DiMarco said.
“We’ve heard stories of nurses using the iPads so patients can sing happy birthday to family members, pray together or just to see familiar, smiling faces to help with anxiety,” she said.
Of course, there are more sober stories, too.
“The sad reality is that these tablets are also serving as a means for family members to say goodbye to their loved ones,” DiMarco said. “We know that’s when these iPads are contributing in the most meaningful way.”
Both Tay and DiMarco encourage readers to donate old tablets with WiFi capability to their local hospitals or nursing homes. DiMarco’s Jeannie’s Fund is an ongoing campaign on GoFundMe. And Tay is still collecting tablet donations to give to hospitals in New York City. She can be reached by email.
“I’m glad this is bringing awareness,” she told HuffPost. “I’ve heard from people who initiated a similar program in their hospitals, or have reached out to their local hospitals or nursing homes to donate tablets for patient-family communication. I hope reading this will inspire others to do the same.”