“For months, as a nurse intern, I’d watched the battle-weary nurses emerge from COVID rooms, taking off their PPE like warriors stripping off armor, their faces lined from the pressure of the respirators. There was something etched in their faces ... some terrible weight that came from caring for these patients,” Kathryn Ivey wrote in an essay published in Scientific American on Thursday. “I learned how to be a nurse with death constantly at my heels.”
“The unit was bleak, and everything we did felt futile, and I realized at some point I felt more like a ferryman to death than anything else,” Ivey wrote. “The ICU felt like purgatory, like a punishment, like we were torturing these people whose bodies were wrecked beyond hope.”
But as the number coronavirus cases began to fall this spring, Ivey said she finally felt like she “could breathe” again: “I started to see what it was like to be a nurse in pre-COVID times and realized how many people normally survive the ICU. The things I did mattered; my actions actually saved lives ... I started to see a future that didn’t have a dark cloud looming over the horizon, a future in which my family was safe and my patients didn’t die these slow, torturous deaths.”
But then numbers began to go up again.
“It is so much worse this time,” Ivey wrote. “We all have so much less to give. We are still bearing the fresh and heavy grief of the past year and trying to find somewhere to put all this anger. But the patients don’t stop coming. And the anger doesn’t stop coming ... I feel defeated. Nothing we do makes a difference. The world spins on, oblivious and belligerent, as we fight to save the tidal wave coming our way — with less staff, less resources and much heavier hearts.”
Ivey added: “I don’t know what to say that will make people listen to us, to take the basic steps such as masks and vaccination that could be our way out of this nightmare. I wish I could snap so many people out of their selfish stupor, but I can’t.”
Ivey’s experiences are tragically typical of health care workers across the nation, a psychiatrist who works to help them told HuffPost.
“They got through it the first time around, they hung on, thinking it would be over at some point. Now they’re back fighting it again,” said Dr. Jessi Gold, an 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 much longer they can take it. They talk of quitting now,” Gold said. “Depression and anxiety are more acute, and the work is dangerous. They’re exposed to COVID constantly, then go home to their unvaccinated kids.”
An added toll is how political treatment has become, according to Gold. Some patients scream at nurses and doctors when they’re not given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, which has been pushed by anti-vaccine activists as a treatment for COVID.
“There’s often a political aspect to science,” Gold said. “But fighting political battles as we try to try to help people is not something anyone wants.”