A nurse who volunteered specifically to treat coronavirus patients was found dead amid reports that he had been struggling to cope with the fear, trauma and isolation of being on the frontlines of the pandemic.
The family of 32-year-old William Coddington of south Florida are trying to establish whether his is the latest case of a healthcare worker taking their own life during the pandemic.
Coddington’s mother, Carolyn, geo-tracked William’s phone to find he was not at the hospital where he worked, in West Palm Beach. He was found in a nearby hotel parking lot a little later, possibly having succumbed to an overdose.
Broward county health and law enforcement authorities told the Reuters news agency that Coddington’s death is under investigation.
His parents confirmed that Coddington had battled an opioid addiction since his early 20s and was struggling with social distancing restrictions, while his loved ones also said he had been committed to his ongoing recovery from drug dependency.
His mother said he thought sobriety meetings held virtually were not as useful as those held in person under normal circumstances.
“He couldn’t meet with his sponsor,” she said, “his friends … nobody wanted to see him because he worked in a hospital, not even to sit 6ft apart.”
Texts messages and screenshots from the final weeks of his life, however, also uncovered Coddington’s increasing fear and trauma from battling the health crisis. Colleagues and friends confirmed he had been stressed and was worried about inadequate protection.
“In my hospital we are rationing one N95 mask for my whole shift,” Coddington previously wrote. “We are running out of gowns. We are having people make makeshift face shields that end up snapping.”
Ronald Coddington, his father, recalled that days before he died, his son told him that his face shield fell off while intubating a patient.
“He literally felt things splash on his face,” he said.
Coddington became a nurse in 2018 and when Covid-19 patients started arriving at the JFK medical center’s north campus where he worked, he volunteered for the coronavirus unit.
He did it because he was younger than some of his colleagues, and so potentially less likely to become severely ill, and because he was not a parent, he told a friend, according to a Reuters report.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Coddington’s friends and family tuned in to witness a virtual funeral.
Close friend Robert Marks said he was “100%” sure that Coddington had not intended to commit suicide and instead it may have been “an effort to have some relief” from the stress of working on the frontline of the crisis, which then went terribly wrong.
Last month, Lorna Breen, a top emergency room doctor at New York’s Presbyterian-Allen hospital, took her own life after battling the virus as both a professional and former patient.
Her family reported she had become overwhelmed by the work. Psychiatrists have acknowledged that healthcare workers, especially those with previous substance abuse, may struggle coping with fear, isolation and witnessing massive death during the pandemic.
A hospital spokeswoman for HCA Healthcare, the network representing JFK medical center, where Coddington worked, declined to comment on the hospital’s working conditions, but offered condolences to the family.
Coddington did write that he didn’t blame the hospital, because shortages are widespread. The spokesperson maintained they have “adequate supplies of PPE” and are “taking steps to conserve” them.
According to the state’s health department, Palm Beach county is third behind Miami-Dade and Broward for confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida.
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found atwww.befrienders.org.