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‘He is at peace’: ICU nurses use signs to communicate with family of man dying from COVID-19

After Rene Johnson contracted COVID-19 and was admitted to his local hospital this month experiencing trouble breathing, his family made sure to be there for him even if the circumstances of the pandemic forced physical distance between them. 

The Johnson family would show up to the Catholic Medical Center in New Hampshire just outside Rene’s window with signs of love and encouragement to help him get through the horrible experience. 

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Early in his stay at the hospital, Rene was able to see his family gathering in a show of support, but as soon as his condition worsened and he was transferred to an intensive care unit. His family still showed up, but Rene wasn’t able to see the messages himself.


Family of Rene Johnson showing support outside the hospital.

The nurses taking care of Rene were able to relay the messages to him, and they in turn relayed messages back to the family through a glass window, making sure the anxious relatives knew Rene was not alone. 

The nurses formed hearts with their hands and posted written messages back through the window for Rene’s family to see, according to Rene’s daughter Angela. 

“Once he was moved to a window view on a different side of the hospital we started standing outside his window in the park with signs and a sheet hanging on a truck outside his window,” Angela said. “The nurses were so responsive holding up hearts with their hands and giving thumbs up and posting written messages back to us.”

Sadly, Rene succumbed to COVID-19 after roughly two weeks spent in the hospital. When Rene passed on May 17, two of the nurses who cared for him posted two signs in the window of his hospital room that read, "He is at peace" and "We are so sorry."


Rene Johnson's family holding signs and communicating with the ICU nurses. (Angela Daneault)

The family received a phone call with the devastating news, but the nurses personally delivering the message with the signs made them “forever a part of our story and family now,” said Angela. 

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“We were sad he was gone, sigh of relief he was no longer suffering, the signs made it real. But yet the signs and gestures of the nurses made us feel loved and compassion from the ICU staff,” Angela added. 

The family still gathers outside to continue to show support for the medical workers fighting the virus. 

Rene’s family started a Gofundme to raise money to help support the hospital staff who treated him.