After 12-hour shifts as an ICU nurse at an Arizona hospital, Jody Lund hears the relentless sound of a ventilator as she tries to sleep.
Jaimie Anderson, a nurse in a Yakima hospital, has treated patients who are gravely ill with COVID-19 who wonder if it’s too late for them to get the vaccine. Mikaela Hood, also working at a hospital in Yakima, has had multiple family members die of COVID on the same day.
Nurses are carrying so much during the pandemic, bearing physical and psychological burdens that are pushing their limits, from those brand-new to the field to those with decades of experience.
A number of graduates of Washington State University’s nursing program shared their experiences recently with Addy Hatch, a former Spokesman-Review managing editor who works in communications at WSU. They were published Tuesday in the WSU Insider.
If there is hope for changing hearts and minds regarding vaccinations and the pandemic, it may lie in sharing front-line reports from the COVID units where people are dying – some from a disease they did not believe in, being cared for by people they distrusted.
There has been good, important reporting from inside Spokane hospitals lately, and these nurses are telling further stories that are vital for the community to hear and understand.
As Spokane nurse Kimberly Trower told Hatch: “The hardest part is seeing the community not have any comprehensive understanding of what is occurring in the hospitals and not understand this is a crisis, while the world around us is worrying about whether they can go to the fair or Hoopfest.”
The following comments are excerpted from the WSU Insider piece; the nurses are identified by name and the town in which they’re working, but not by health care facility. You can read the full article here: news.wsu.edu/news/2021/09/21/coug-nurses-covid-units-exhausted-feeling-attack/
Jaimie Anderson, a 2019 graduate working in Yakima: “I started in the ER in December. We see the whole range, from when they come in because they just want a test, and we see them when they need to be intubated. For some it’s their first time in a hospital. It’s especially scary for them. …
“When people finally realize that what health care professionals and doctors have been saying is true, that the vaccines work and COVID is real, they’re intubated and about to die. Hey, can I have the vaccine? It’s too late. Also people saying goodbye on the phone is something I’ll never get used to.
“I had an individual who was not vaccinated and her husband was and they both got COVID. The husband was doing fine and she wasn’t. One of her doctors came in with the husband on the phone. They had been married 60 years and you could hear the pain in his voice when he said goodbye. That was the hardest COVID case. I cried in the bathroom after.”
Mikaela Hood, a 2016 graduate working in Yakima: “I think the hardest part is emotional. We’ve had so many young people pass away. We’ve had families where multiple family members have died within the same day.
“With visitor restrictions you have to keep talking with the family members. If they don’t have a medical background they don’t understand what their family members are going through. You have a person who’s intubated and (family members) say when do they get to come home? You’re like, I don’t think you understand.”
Paulina Crownheart, a 2021 graduate working in Spokane: “On any given night all of my patients have COVID. It’s more of an acute setting than I was expecting to go into right off the bat. It’s terrifying, I’m just getting my feet under me and to have patients with this acuity – it’s a little out of the blue, but at the same time it challenges you. …
“It can be really frustrating working with a population who are not vaccinated because not only are they not taking care of themselves, they’re not taking care of their community and that’s just a recipe for compassion fatigue. You try to reflect on how we deal with patients every day who have made choices that have landed them in the hospital, but the social element of putting others at risk is just an added frustration.”
Jody Lund, a 1986 graduate working in Tucson, Arizona: “Yesterday we had patients crashing left and right. It takes so long to get all of our PPE on to get to a patient that it’s hard. You want to get there quickly, but in an emergency situation it just takes so long. One of the patients we lost yesterday was 23.
“Personally I am exhausted. I just came off a four-day in a row of supposedly 12-hour shifts, and we all know how that goes. If I go to the bathroom one time at work it’s a good day. We just don’t have time. It’s horrible. I’ve given up thinking that I’m going to sleep well. I hear ventilators in my sleep. I hear monitor alarms in my sleep. I spend the night calculating dosages. I spend the night trying to remember what drugs I can hang with what drugs. I try to do things for my physical self to make up for the fact that I don’t sleep.
“I love nursing so much. Other than my wedding day and the birth of my children, nursing has given me the best days of my life – and also the worst days of my life.”
Ashley Blew, a 2020 graduate working in Boca Raton, Florida: “My co-workers are very supportive and the teamwork is there, but it’s very difficult to be working with COVID patients. It’s hard to be the only support for those patients when they can’t see their families, or they get sick so fast. They’re fearful, they’re isolated, they don’t feel well, and they’re afraid of what’s coming next.
“There’s a pretty high amount of moral distress right now on my unit. Being beside those patients and witnessing the traumatic event in their lives. You really are the only person who can provide the support they need, setting up FaceTime and Zoom to see family members, before it’s too late and they can’t speak.”
Crystal Cronoble, a 2019 graduate working in Coeur d’Alene: “It’s really hard because these people have really poor outcomes due to the disease process. You get families in the ICU. I took care of a mom whose daughter had COVID and died a few doors down and the mom didn’t even know her daughter had COVID. It’s just a lot emotionally.
“Living in Idaho, where generally people are non-COVID-believers, is a really hard environment to work in. They don’t want to get the vaccine, they don’t want to wear masks, and when they come into the ICU they’re in disbelief they even have COVID. We’ve gone from being the most trusted profession to basically being told we’re dishonest. It would be a lot easier if families could see how sick patients are and how hard we’re working to keep their family alive.
“People will be like, why aren’t you giving my family ivermectin? We say here’s what we’re doing and talk them through the whole care plan. And they say, but you’re not giving my family member ivermectin? No, of course not.”