Today’s SameHere Hero Story: Stephen Bove
As February 2020 turned to March 2020 what seemed like medical science fiction became reality. The hospital I worked in as a physical therapist in New York became overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID-19. Otherwise healthy people succumbed to the disease all around me. We did our best to help, but it seemed like whatever we did had little effect on whether people survived. We knew there was a chance we could contract the virus and could die. Some co-workers wrote goodbye notes to their families in case they got it. I had a 2 month old at home. The thought of bringing it home terrified me. I saw some of the sickest patients on the prone team. We were a team of clinicians who (as a group) flipped sedated patients onto their stomachs while on a ventilator. Very often, their life hung in the balance and even more often they were no longer with us when the next day came.
Every day we were so scared to go to work… but we had a duty. Some said they didn’t sign up for something like working through the pandemic, but I did. The way I began to cope was by accepting that there was a chance I could get it and a chance I could die from it (we knew so little about the virus then). Once I accepted this I began to embrace death — surely death couldn’t be as bad as the suffering I was witnessing. The embracing of death eventually became the ideation of it. I didn’t want to go on in a world like this anymore. I began to idolize the idea of suicide.
I often walked past cards for healthcare workers in need of help, that my company had out in what they called the tranquility tent. I took one but didn’t initially call. To be honest, I cried a lot and often alone. I would sit in my car after work, let it out, then go home trying to present myself as some type of confident husband and father. My wife however noticed the mood swings. Once night while we were getting ready to go to sleep I began to discuss what I saw. I mentioned the thought I had considered suicide (rather matter-of-factly) and my wife stopped me mid-thought. She pushed me to get help. At that point I broke down, revealing to her how broken I felt.
I eventually did call the number on that card from the tranquility tent. I was connected with a psychologist who recognized my thoughts as suicidal ideations. Furthermore, I went to see a Psychiatric nurse practitioner who started me on an antidepressant medication. I got a tattoo. It reads “I’ve gained strength from the madness I’ve overcome”. I talk about my experiences and my thoughts more. The more I talked, the more my co-workers revealed they were experiencing similar feelings. My journal became my listening ear.
Most people were very accepting of my story. Although they could not stand in my shoes, they expressed their support. I learned who my closest friends were. It was often the least expected friend who’d reach out with a random text saying, “Hey, how are you doing?”. Others, the ones I thought were close friends, faded…and that’s ok. I tell my story in the hopes it will help others. I see now how far I’ve come from my darkest days and promise to be there for my wife, my daughter, my coming son, and for everyone else who wasn’t as lucky as me.