“We were farm people in north Alabama. My dad raised chickens and cows, and I was a tomboy and grew up working on the farm. I picked up dead chickens, fed cows and helped fix fences. We lived in a small town where you loved your neighbor as yourself. I also loved leadership opportunities and healthcare, so I became a nurse. I’m working on my doctorate in nursing informatics. I was the first of my family to go to college, but my two little sisters followed after me. I put myself through college and nursing school by working at Sonic for five years as a carhop. Now I’m a nurse manager over a COVID unit in Mobile and making Sonic milkshakes for patients in my blender. Sometimes things come back to you.
Every day I see fear, hopelessness, hurt, and distress in our patients’ eyes. People are suffocating to death in this war zone.
I’m also leading a unit of 43 incredible individuals trying to make a difference. After spending weeks with our patients, they become like family to us. We’re all they have. It’s heartbreaking when there’s nothing else we can do to save them. We pray and try all of the medical interventions we can. Too often, we end up loving them, holding their hands, and helping them die with dignity. We have seen so much death, but sometimes we still hold each other and cry. There are not enough nurses to fill the demand. A few nurses put off retirement because their community and neighbors needed them right now. I do all I can, but I still lay in bed at night wanting to do more and to do it better. I took an oath to save as many people as I can.
This week, a gentleman on a bi-pap machine was about to be transferred to the ICU because he was not doing well. We gave him a pen and piece of paper to write a note to his 12-year-old son and say what was on his heart. Before we rolled him out, he said ‘Tell my son I love him and that I’m sorry.’ How do you tell a 12-year-old kid that we tried everything, but there was nothing we could do? There will be a generation of children growing up without a parent because of COVID.
Our COVID patients also suffer from anxiety and depression. We celebrate our patients’ small victories, such as eating a meal by themselves without running out of breath. On birthdays, we resemble space aliens in our gear singing ‘Happy Birthday’ through respirators. We dance, tell jokes, and do anything we can to help patients laugh and stay positive. I know how they like their coffee or if they want pound cake with it in the afternoon.
When I leave the hospital at the end of my shift and remove my mask, I take a deep breath. I’m thankful for that breath because my patients can’t do that. I walk into my house and take a shower before my two young daughters can run up and hug me. Riding tricycles and playing Barbies helps get my mind off the hospital for a little while. My husband is a minister. We pray and I still see miracles. Prayer keeps me going.
Today, every patient in my unit is unvaccinated, but every day my patients beg me for the vaccine. They can’t breathe, and it takes a minute to just get the words out. When COVID first happened, we prayed for God to give us some answers and something to work with. In December, my nurses hugged as we stood in line together to get the vaccine. We were so hopeful that was the beginning to the end. But now it’s worse than it was before. Every bed is full, and a fire engine brought one of our patients in because an ambulance wasn’t available. We also see the negativity and distrust towards healthcare on social media. But I have to stay focused on my patients and remember this is somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, in that bed. We, as healthcare workers, know we were called to do this, but we ask that the community help by getting vaccinated.
This is going to be a story we tell our grandchildren. I’m hopeful for the future and that we will get through this, but I would rather get through this with more people alive.”