Beyond the masks, ventilators and gloves, front line workers say there are is one other synonymous image that should be associated with COVID-19.

The glass in the door.


Doctors and chaplains at Vanderbilt Medical Center want the public to realize when a COVID-19 patient is dying, their family members are not allowed to physically touch them and must stand behind the glass in the door to their room.

“I was recently heartbroken to have a patient die and the spouse having to be outside the window because they were too scared to enter into the room,” said Dr. Wes Ely, a specialist in respiratory problems at Vanderbilt Medical Center. “That kind of dying process…I’ve never seen it in 30 years.”

The high contagious virus means the hospital must prevent physical touch between patients, even from the chaplains who have come to comfort them.

“My heart breaks because we’re not able to connect in the same way,” said Rev. Ian Cullen, palliative care chaplain at Vanderbilt.

Sherry Perry, staff chaplain at Vanderbilt, said they instinctively want to hold out their hands to the patients.

 “We’re so accustomed to reach out our hands – and sometimes they just want to hold a hand. It’s really hard. To not be able to offer that,” Perry said.

For the 144 patients who have been hospitalized at the hospital, the staff realized what comfort couldn’t be felt, would have to be heard.

They are asking dying patients and their families what music they would like to hear, and bring in headphones and other devices to play whatever songs they request.

The playlists aren’t always what you think.

“I’ve never heard Freebird as much as I have in the hospital,” Cullen laughs.

While the glass in the door separates as not to transmit the virus, the glass on an IPAD provides what can be the only way for families to come face to face.

The chaplains and nurses are bringing IPADS and having family members call in via Facetime so they can be placed before the dying patient.

“Those moments where we were able to find connection. That will help us move on from this,” Cullen said.

Vanderbilt said in a family member is wearing PPE and isn’t high risk, they can be allowed in to sit with a dying person.

Ely said the hardest has been older couples, who have been married most of their lives, unable to hold hands as one of them succumbs to the virus. is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, 4WARN weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from News4 Nashville.

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Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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