Ashley Carty is a seasoned medical professional with over 8 years of experience working at the top hospitals in Southern California, including Hoag, Saddleback Memorial, and UCSD.
This pandemic has brought a sense of uncertainty, but one thing remains consistent and that’s the dedication of the nurses and other medical professionals. Professionals whose job has been to save lives, but never to put their own lives on the line to serve the needs of our nation. Here are a few stories of these heroes from the front lines of COVID-19.
“It is a war zone, my colleagues and I take up each day and do our best for our coronavirus patients and their families. The virus has limited how often we can go into patients’ rooms. Much of the leg work we do is done on the phone with patients and their family members. The hallways are quieter and everyone, including patients, are masked. Even in the last moments of life, some patients are alone. This is the raw, eye-opening reality of administering health care through this pandemic.”
— Marchelle, MSN
I lost a patient today. He was not the first, and unfortunately, he’s definitely not the last. But he was different. I’ve been an ER nurse my entire career, but in New York, I find myself in the ICU. At this point, there’s not really anywhere in the hospital that isn’t ICU, all COVID-19 positive. They are desperate for nurses who can titrate critical medication drips and troubleshoot ventilators.
I’ve taken care of this man the last three nights, a first for me. In the ER I rarely keep patients for even one 12 hour shift. His entire two-week stay had been rough for him, but last night was the worst. I spent the first six hours of my shift not really leaving his room. By the end, with so many medications infusing at their maximum, I was begging the doctor to call his family and let them know. “He’s not going to make it”, I said. The poor doctors are so busy running from code to code, being pulled by emergent patients every minute. All I could think of was the voice of my mom in my head, crying as I got on the plane to leave for this place: “Those people are alone, you take good care of them”. I was the only person in that room for three nights in a row, fighting as hard as I could to keep this man alive. The doctor was able to reach the family, update them. It was decided that when his heart inevitably stopped we wouldn’t try to restart it. There just wasn’t anything else left to do.
Eventually, he gave up. It was just him and me and his intubated roommate in the next bed. The wooden door to the room is shut, containing infection and cutting us off from the rest of the world. I called the doctor to come and mark the time of death. I wished so much that I could let his family know that while they might not have been with him, I was.
I shut the pumps down (so horribly many of them), disconnected the vent, took him off the monitor. We didn’t extubate him, too much of a risk to staff. Respiratory took the vent as soon as I called. It’s just a portable one, but it’s life to someone downstairs. The CNA helped me to wash him and place him in a body bag, a luxury afforded only to those who make it out of the ER. Down there the bodies pile up on stretchers, alone, while the patients on vents wait for the golden spot my gentleman just vacated. We’ll talk about the ER another time. My patient was obviously healthy in his life. I look at his picture in his chart, the kind they take from a camera over a computer when you aren’t really prepared. A head-shot, slightly awkward. I see someone’s Grandpa, someone’s Dad, someone’s husband. They aren’t here with him. My heart breaks for them.
I fold his cute old man sweater and place it in a bag with his loafers, his belongings. I ask where to put this thing. A coworker opens the door to a locked room; labeled bags are piled to the ceiling. My heart drops. It’s all belongings of deceased parents, waiting for a family member to someday claim them. A few nights ago they had 17 deaths in a shift. The entire unit is only 17 beds.
These patients are so fragile. It’s such a delicate balance of breathing, of blood pressure, of organ function. The slightest movement or change sends them into hours long death spirals. The codes are so frequent those not directly involved barely even register them. The patients are all the same, everyone. Regardless of age, health status, wealth, family, or power the diagnosis is the same, the disease process is the same, and the aloneness is the same. Our floor has one guy that made it to extubation. He’s 30 years old. I view him as our mascot, our ray of hope that not everyone here is just waiting to die. I know that most people survive just fine, but that’s not what it feels like in this place. Most of the hospital staff is out sick. We, the disaster staff, keep our n95 masks glued to our faces. We all think we are invincible, but I find myself eyeing up my coworkers, wondering who the weak ones are, knowing deep down that not all of us will make it out of here alive.
A bus takes us back to the hotel the disaster staff resides in, through deserted Manhatten. We are a few blocks from Central Park. We pass radio city music hall, NBC studios, times square. There is no traffic. The sidewalks are empty. My room is on the 12th floor. At 7 pm you can hear people cheering and banging on and pans for the healthcare workers at the change of shift. This city is breaking and stealing my heart simultaneously. I didn’t know what I was getting into coming here, but it’s turning out to be quite a lot.
“Working in the COVID designated ICU. 11 patients, 6 of them intubated and 4 were in ARDS and in proned position. One of the proned patients coded, we flipped them over and coded them for 30 mins and had to let them go. As we left the room we looked across the hall and another patient just started coding. The same exact situation with the same exact result. To sum up, the night we intubated 3 new patients, miraculously transferred 1 to another floor ( COVID ran its course and he was in recovery), and took 2 patients to the morgue. The 2 “Time of deaths” that night were 3 mins apart.” “I will honestly say in Mobile we have been lucky that it really hasn’t been that bad. Not compared to a lot of other places. Just a lot more people on ventilators and as of yet, nobody who has had to be intubated has survived.”
– Patrick, RN, Mobile Alabama
— Julie, Seattle
“I am a family practice physician and work in an outpatient clinic near Seattle. I recently saw a 60-year-old female patient in my clinic who was relatively sick but was hemodynamically stable. She presented with sore throat and body aches with high fevers, cough, and SOB x3-4 days with no significant risk factors. I first tested the patient for strep, which came back positive. I then tested her for flu since she was not vaccinated, which came back positive for Influenza B. I then proceeded to order a STAT CXR which we are fortunate to have in my clinic which showed up right upper lobe pneumonia. I finally decided to test her for COVID19 based on her symptoms, despite her having no known exposure nor being a healthcare worker. I’ll admit that I slightly deviated away from the testing protocol and algorithm, but I had a gut suspicion she could possibly have COVID19 on top of all this. I decided to discharge the patient home on Augmentin for 10 days, z-pak, Tamiflu, albuterol inhaler and tessalon perles with strict isolation precautions. Her vitals were relatively stable with her O2 sats were 95-96%, normal BP, HR 100-105 and not tachypneic. Three days later I received her COVID19 results, which also came back positive. I called the patient to see how she was doing and she stated she was feeling much better, had not had a fever for 24 hours and had mild improvement in her breathing despite still experiencing cough, SOB and body aches. I was pleasantly surprised that she was having mild symptomatic improvement with the treatment I put her on. I advised her still to closely monitor her symptoms as things can change very rapidly with COVID19.”
— Prashat, Seattle, WA
Want to help these nurses? Keep families together? Save lives?! Stay home unless it’s an absolute emergency, start wearing a mask, disinfect yourself from head to toe when you get home (no shoes or clothes in the house) and spray down everything that comes through your door.
Just because the tsunami hasn’t hit “your home” yet doesn’t mean it’s not coming.
A special thank you to those that are working along-side these amazing healthcare professionals who are risking their lives every day to save others. You are true superheroes and these brands want to thank you with free stuff. If you’re looking for support during these hard times, we urge you to join a support group.
Have more stories from the front lines of COVID-19? We would love to hear them in the comments below.
I have years of experience
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