Two years into the pandemic, hospitals are overwhelmed by the Omicron surge and staffing shortages. Healthcare workers struggle against their own fatigue to care for patients. Three providers from UVA Health in Charlottesville, Virginia — Katarine Egressy, MD, Katie Cecere, RN, and Kyle Enfield, MD — reflect on the pandemic after a normal day of work.
The following is a transcript of their remarks:
Egressy: I am a pulmonary critical care provider and have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 2 years. And here I am at 8:45 p.m. since being at work at 7 a.m. in the morning.
The kind of tiredness that I feel, and [that] is probably shared by my colleagues, can’t really be described in words. It’s sort of the bone-weary tiredness, um, that really covers your whole body.
Cecere: I have been a critical care nurse for the past 14 years. Just to tell you about a recent shift that I had a couple weeks ago, I kind of thought that I was at my breaking point. I came to work; I was in charge that day. My co-charge ended up having to go home sick. And the unit was on fire. Unfortunately that day, there were no other nurses in patient care that could do charge. I had a patient coding in one room, a patient pre-coding in another, and it was just this helpless feeling of — when I think about it, sorry, I still tear up — it’s just this helpless feeling of not being able to be everywhere that I was needed. Just this horribly vulnerable feeling that you’re letting everyone that needs you down.
And so I spent half of that shift in tears. I texted my husband that day and I said, ‘I’m done. I’m done with nursing.’
Enfield: In addition to my time in the ICU, I take all the outside hospital transfer calls for ICU transfers for our hospital. Just having the need to say ‘no’ more than I want to because we don’t have enough beds to care for all the patients who need our service is really draining. It’s what kind of makes all of this even more tiring than just what it would be taking care of the patients that we have in front of us.
We all go into the profession that we did because we want to help people, and particularly critical care doctors like myself who really thought about pandemics and how we prepare for them for a long time. I don’t think I was prepared for the need to triage patients from a distance for the services that we have at our hospital. And some of the stories are really challenging to say ‘no’ to. But you also know that if we can’t take care of the patients that are already in beds in the hospital, it makes it that much more difficult.
Egressy: The feeling of despair comes to mind, as we have been battling this pandemic for 2 years. And it feels that every single day we are reliving history and we’re reliving yesterday. It feels lonely to battle by oneself. It feels lonely to be, at times, gaslighted by the community.
Enfield: So I’d say my reflections on this surge and the last one is: It sucks. It’s tiring. And I’m hopeful that it will end soon. But I’m also proud of the fact that I can be on the front lines, taking care of patients and doing everything I can to make sure that the team that I’m working with has what they need. Both the physical PPE [personal protective equipment], and hopefully the emotional support, and the fact that I hope that they know that I have their back if anything goes wrong. That’s what gets me back in the hospital tomorrow, which is what I will be doing.
Egressy: I remind myself that I’m grateful and fortunate to be here, to have my colleagues, to have the hospital, and to be able to provide the best care that I can to my patients. I remain grateful, but extremely tired. And I remain hopeful that change will come.
Cecere: Yeah, we’re going through hell right now, but we will be okay. I’m not gonna quit. I’m gonna show up. I’m gonna do what I know that I love. And I’ll take the good days with the bad. It’s made me more vulnerable, but that’s okay. I’m here. If I have to cry through a shift, I’ll be there. Thanks for listening.