COVID,  Interview,  Lifestyle,  News

The Chilling Numbers of COVID

By Robin Postell

Elizabeth, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), is thirty-something, funny, clever, but not tonight. Her tone is pleasant, but she is grim, a little solemn.

Today she thought she would be off but got called in. This happens a lot these days as a new surge of COVID rushes through the hallways of the South Georgia hospital’s Critical Care Unit where she works. Once Covid patients leave her floor, bound for ICU, their chances of survival are narrow. “Pretty much,” she sighs, “when they go on the vent(ilator) it’s over.”

Elizabth contracted Covid, along with her son, and quarantined in a hotel to keep from exposing her other son and partner back home. She knows firsthand how draining it is, remembering her lips turning blue when breathlessly trying to carry a box to the car not long after being diagnosed. She still experiences weakness.

“I can’t count how many people have died from it…I can’t count,” she says, noting that people are always asking her about the numbers. “I’ve been working here 12 years – and in the ICU and ER most of the time – but I’ve seen more people die of this than anything else.”

She remembers her first Covid patient, early on in its rise in the U.S. A sweet elderly woman, she would call down to the nurse’s station, asking for someone to come see her – that she was lonely, and afraid. Elizabeth remembers her telling the staff not to use the scarce supplies on her, to save them for others because she was old.

Elizabeth has far too many stories like this one. Since then, hundreds of patients have come, and gone – for good.

According to Elizabeth, the Critical Care Unit during the highest peak of 2020 was at capacity with 17 beds all tapped for COVID patients. “Now it’s 24,” she says of the September 2021 uptick of Covid. “They’ve had to open the pediatrics wing this time.”

Is it the Delta variant? She doesn’t know.

“If anyone knows or has said, I haven’t had time to slow down long enough to hear,” she says. All she knows is they’re sick – really sick – and she’s tired, scared, and frustrated.

Elizabeth says she has always loved the job and helping people, “…until this happened,” she continues. “I left once before but it was because of the money.  Now they’re paying me so much more and I don’t even want to go. I feel like if my heart’s not in it, I shouldn’t be doing it.”

Like many hospitals dealing with Covid, hers is understaffed. “There’s like no staff, because everybody’s burnt out,” Jessica says. “People are reconsidering their line of work…including me.”

The job has become too much; dealing with patients Jessica feels aren’t being realistic or conscientious enough about the risks of contracting the virus has taken a toll on her view of humanity.

“It’s exhausting and aggravating. It’s like nobody’s listening. No mask. Not washing hands. No vaccine. It’s like your kid climbing on the counter over and over and they keep doing it and then they fall,” she says. “It’s your body and your choice, but it’s exhausting. People who are already sick are just adamant that we’re all trying to kill them, and they won’t wear a mask…Of the 17 on our floor at one time, about six of them were convinced that it was just a scam.”

Some of those, she’s sure, died believing it. Others died regretting it. And there are always more to replace them with similar biases.

“One night on my way to work in July (2021) I had to pull over and had a full-blown panic attack. I called in and said I just can’t come in. I couldn’t. I tried again the next day,” she said. “When I went back, I went to a desk job, watching heart monitors. It’s boring, but at least I can get a break.”

Various studies have shown that healthcare workers, specifically nurses, are candidates for long-term side effects like severe depression and PTSD from their Covid details.

“I hope not,” Jessica says to that.  “I really do.”

With school-age sons, one of whom, like his father, is opposed to the vaccine, and with patients and co-workers alike in constant inner- and outer-conflicts regarding the virus, and its subsequent safety measures such as masks and vaccines, Jessica is overwhelmed.

“It’s infuriating,” she says with a clenched jaw.

Ultimately, she’s simply too busy and too shell-shocked to argue, but this has a staggering impact on her overall well-being. At the height of her aggravation on July 30, 2020 – a day spent going “back and forth to the morgue” – she posted a hard-boiled lamentation to those she felt “weren’t listening” on her Facebook page:

Within the conversations of Covid, most people want to discuss their conspiracy theories, and all the misinformation and numbers…

With me being the can’t-shut-my-mouth kind of gal that I am…I decided to give you a list of REAL TRUE numbers and information that I personally have been struggling with lately…

4: The number of patient labels you need to take in the room during post-mortem care to help properly identify the Covid positive body.

3.5: The maximum hours I can actually sleep on a night I’ve worked. My mind is an absolute mess.

2: The number of tags you tie to the patients before placing them in the bag…if applicable the finger tag goes on the wedding ring.

12: The number of times I have come home and cried in the shower because despite my strong face act, I am so terrified and so heartbroken for these people and their families.

6: The number of times I have cried in a patient’s room, thank God these poor people can’t see my tears through my masks.

2: the number of times I have fallen to my knees praying to God to protect my family, my parents, my grandparents…

4: The number of times I woke up crying from the night before or sometimes looking for a crash cart.

5: The number of double-gloved fingers I’ve used to hold these peoples’ hands when they ask me to, because they are terrified, they can’t catch their breath, and they just know death is near.

1XXXXX: The number I use to sign out my mask every day – the mask that scars my face, hides my smile, keeps me safe, and takes my breath all at the same time.  This is also the number I use to sign out body bags.

2: Shoes that stay outside of my house because I’m so worried I will bring this into my home, or around my children.

0: The loneliest of numbers…the number of how many family members are in a room when a human being takes their last breath. It used to be a thing, that no one wants to die alone, but look at al these “fake” people…Husbands, brothers, mothers, sisters, just dying alone.

I don’t care about CNN or Fox news numbers.  I really don’t. I don’t give a **** about Trump, Obama, none of ‘em. Don’t give a **** about a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, whatever you may be. Absolutely none of it.

I give a **** about compassion, I give a **** about empathy. I give a **** about love…I give a ****t about humanity and human decency. I give a **** about people dying alone.  I give a **** about the amazing, broken-spirited, tired, dedicated team I work with…

So please understand that while ignorance is bliss, some of us are forever scarred from this and its only getting worse. Feel free to suit up and join this fight, or shut your mouth while those who actually see it and feel the depth of it, the tragedy, heartbreak, and sadness of it, figure it out…Please stop spitting in our face. This disease has ruined so many lives forever. I can assure you no matter the numbers, conspiracy theories, or politics, for us this is all too real.

We used to be heroes…

Now we are just tired…

Do better, America.

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