COVID memorials: Nurse unable to be at brother’s bedside at death

Sherri Walden is pictured with her brother Robbie Martin, who died of COVID-19 in December. SUBMITTED

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Sherri Walden is pictured with her brother Robbie Martin, who died of COVID-19 in December. SUBMITTED

As a nurse, Sherri Walden has been at the bedside of COVID-19 patients and done her best to help families through the painful ordeal of being separated at life’s end.

In December, the circumstances were bitterly reversed as her brother Robbie Martin lie dying from the disease.

“I’d like to have held his hand,” Sherri said. “That didn’t happen.”

The Dayton Daily News and Springfield News-Sun are remembering people from the region we lost and gives voice to those who loved them.

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Robbie was known around Springfield as a very outgoing person, often riding the bus around town and dropping in on churches to visit with people, said Sherri, also of Springfield.

“Everybody just knew him because he was so friendly. He would just start conversations,” she said. “I couldn’t believe the outpouring on Facebook of people over the years that remembered him because he was just such a nice person.”

Robbie, the youngest of five siblings, also enjoyed attending family functions, auto racing and watching “goofball wrestling,” Sherri said.

While he could be “a little bit naive and vulnerable,” Robbie was also “really witty and funny,” Sherri said. “I really don’t think he ever had an argument with anybody. I can’t fathom how that could happen.”

Robbie, who had a developmental disability, worked when he was younger. Later, he had a tougher time and needed to live in a long-term care facility to help manage his diabetes, his sister said.

Sherri said at times she was regretful that her brother was living in a care center at age 53, but took comfort knowing he thrived there where his personality resonated among the friends he made there, including two girlfriends.

“He would say hi to every room and they would all say, ‘Hey, Rob. Hey, Rob.’ I felt like he had found his niche,” she said.

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Because of his unreserved personality, there was a fear throughout the pandemic that Robbie might contract the virus, Sherri said.

“He was so social that they couldn’t really keep him in his room,” she said.

With care facilities locked down, Sherri had minimal contact with her brother other than by phone during the pandemic. One of the two times she was able to visit Robbie in person was at a doctor’s appointments four weeks before he died.

“I did get at least get to see him a couple times in the last year. But it was very traumatic,” she said.

When Robbie first tested positive, Sherri was told he was asymptomatic. But three days later Robbie was taken to the emergency room at Springfield Regional Medical Center with shortness of breath.

Robbie remained in good spirits right up until a doctor called about 24 hours later to tell Sherri he would be putting her brother on a ventilator: “‘The doctor said, ‘He’s really got a pleasant disposition,’ and I said, ‘Yes he does.’”

A nurse at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Sherri said she often takes calls from patients’ family members and tries to advocate on their behalf.

“I have a certain softness for that,” she said. “I will do what I can to get them connected to the people that can tell them about their family member because sometimes it’s hard to navigate.”

Just before Robbie was put on a ventilator, it was Sherri’s turn to speak with a nurse on the other end of the call.

“I asked her to put the phone to his ear just so I could tell him I love him,” she said.

By then, Robbie was hypoxic and Sherri had difficulty understanding him.

“He responded, but I don’t know if he heard me or not,” she said.

Sherri said Robbie’s numbers improved a couple of days before died, giving her hope.

“I was thinking he was going to be taken off the vent. I thought he’s going to be one of the ones who won,” she said. “And I felt like he deserved to be one of the people that got well.”

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