Working frantically to help COVID patients in 2020 was hellish, said a registered nurse in Nashville who started last year. But it’s nothing compared to now.
“For months, as a nurse trainee” last year, “I watched battle-weary nurses walk out of COVID wards, removing their PPE like warriors taking off their armor, faces wrinkled from the pressure of respirators. There was something engraved on their faces… a terrible weight that came from taking care of these patients, ”Kathryn Ivey wrote in an essay in Scientific American Thursday. “I learned to be a nurse with death constantly on my trail.”
The intensive care unit was “dark, and everything we were doing seemed futile, and I realized at one point that I felt more like a ferryman to death than anything else,” Ivey noted. It was “like purgatory, like a punishment, as if we were torturing these people whose bodies were destroyed beyond all hope.”
But as the number of COVID cases began to decline this spring, “I could breathe again,” Ivey said. “I started to see what it was like to be a nurse in the pre-COVID era and realized how many people normally survive in the ICU. The things I did were important; my actions actually saved lives … I began to see a dark cloudless future looming on the horizon, a future in which my family was safe and my patients would not die from those slow deaths and tortuous.
Then, “we all know what happened next,” Ivey wrote.
“It’s so much worse this time,” she revealed. “We all have so much less to give. We still carry the cool, heavy grief of the past year and try to find a place to put all that anger. But the patients keep coming. And the anger keeps coming … I feel defeated. Nothing we do makes a difference. The world turns, oblivious and belligerent, as we fight to save the tidal wave before us – with fewer staff, fewer resources, and a much heavier heart. “
Ivey added, “I don’t know what to say that will make people listen to us, take the basic measures like masks and immunizations that might get us out of this nightmare. I wish I could get so many people out of their selfish amazement, but I can’t.
Ivey’s experiences are tragically typical of healthcare workers across the country, a psychiatrist who works to help them told HuffPost.
“They walked through it the first time around, they just hung on, thinking it would be over at some point. Now they’re fighting again, ”said Dr. Jessi Gold, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. “But it’s even worse now.”
All they “do now is work with COVID patients.” They wonder how long they can hold out. They’re talking about quitting now, ”Gold told HuffPost. “Depression and anxiety are more acute and the work is dangerous. They are constantly exposed to COVID, then return home with their unvaccinated children. “
An added toll is how the political treatment has become, Gold noted, with patients yelling at nurses and doctors when they aren’t getting the pest control drug ivermectin, driven by anti-vaccine drugs as a treatment for COVID.
“There is often a political side to science,” Gold said. “But waging political battles while trying to help people is not something everyone wants.”
Read Ivey’s full essay here.
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