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Florida COVID ICU Nurse Remembered By His Father


Depression, despair for health care workers risking their lives treating COVID patients. Witnessing so much death and living with the fear of infection can be overwhelming. As an ICU nurse, William Coddington of West Palm Beach, Fla., was caught in the middle of that. He recently died at the age of 32.

RONALD CODDINGTON: His mother found his car. And when she got to the car, the car door was locked, and he was slumped over the steering wheel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ronald Coddington, William Coddington's father. And he joins us now to talk about his son's life and death. Mr. Coddington, welcome to the program.

CODDINGTON: Thank you very much. How are you, Lulu?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am OK, and I'm very sorry for your loss. William struggled with substance abuse, right? But he was in recovery and managing it well before he started working in the COVID unit.

CODDINGTON: Yes, William had substance abuse issues starting in his middle 20s. William had some serious surgery on the shin bone in his leg. That pain, that quite honestly dulled but never went away, resulted in pain medication in the beginning. And he became addicted. And he did go through treatment back then. And we know that at a point close to when he passed away, he had been sober for as long as five years, according to his sponsor. And that was a group he kept with all the time and worked the 12-step program from his mid-20s until literally just a few couple weeks before he passed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about those weeks before he passed. He worked at a COVID unit. Did he ever talk to you about what you were seeing in the hospital?

CODDINGTON: At one point, he was talking about the haunting sound of the alarms on the ventilators and described a ventilator on a COVID patient as trying to pump air into a brick. In several occasions, he was doing FaceTiming for the patients while they were talking to their family back home. And some of those FaceTimes were the last time those people, whatever - the patients would ever talk to their loved ones again. He would send me text pictures of the board with the patients on it. Of course, he would cross out the names, so he wasn't sharing any personal information. But he sent me a picture once. And there's, like, five lines there. And the first one is COVID-19 and COVID-19 and COVID-19 all the way down the list. So when he talked about it, you could see the look in his eyes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And treating these patients also meant that William had to isolate himself outside of work, too. As someone who is in recovery, that must have been very difficult.

CODDINGTON: That's exactly right. William was a very personable young man. He liked to be around people. He liked to be close to people. He expressed to me the pain of the fact that his friends didn't want to see him anymore because 6-foot social distancing is fine between a couple of people that think they're healthy, but 6-foot social distancing between someone that just spent 12 hours in a COVID-19 and a lot of that time in the isolation ward, that's - people just weren't comfortable with that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I understand that the police is investigating how your son may have passed, but do you have any idea of what may have happened?

CODDINGTON: I believe they may have found something in the car. I don't know if it was in pill format or if it was in powdered format. I don't know, but there was something in the car that gave them a clue. But we are certain William didn't take his own life. William was seeking some kind of relief, and it was an accident, an accidental drug overdose, most likely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Seeing the toll that this job took on your son, what do you think his death says about the need for mental health support for health care workers at this time?

CODDINGTON: Well, I think it's more than just mental health care for workers because I understand that this hospital did have a mental health care hotline for health care workers, as well as - and I don't know the timing of when they're there - but a person on staff. But that doesn't mean someone is always going to reach out to that. You know, nurses are supposed to be strong, I believe, in their minds. And I think that's what they try to do. They may not always understand the toll it's taking. I think that other health care workers need to be watching their fellow health care workers because they might have a better insight than family members do. And again, my opinion is I don't think William would be that quick to reach out. He would have thought this is something he's supposed to handle on his own.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are you remembering your son now?

CODDINGTON: Well, first of all, this guy was my little buddy. You know, he loved to go out on the boat with me fishing. He was a very outgoing person. He really cared. He cared for other people. Just yesterday, his older brother got a text message from someone. William was the caregiver to this gentleman's mother. And in the text to my eldest son, he said, your brother saved my mom's life. William sat with her for hours, holding her hand and bringing her what she needed, packing her in ice when her fever was exceedingly high but just stayed there in the room with her, you know? I was looking forward to as I get old to have him take care of me because he was a very good caregiver. And he is remembered by his fellow health care workers just as that - as a great caregiver.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you. That was really moving.

CODDINGTON: Thank you for letting me tell my story. Parents shouldn't be burying their kids. Their kids should be burying them. And this is really tough.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ronald Coddington in Palm Beach, Fla. His son William Coddington recently died after working in a COVID ICU.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you're struggling with addiction or depression, please reach out to mental health professionals for support. You can also use the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741 or going to Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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