Mounting COVID hospitalizations exacting physical and emotional toll, health workers say
Exhaustion is an understatement.
That’s how many local health care workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 are describing the toll it’s taking on their own lives.
“It’s not the kind of exhaustion sleep can fix,” said Danyel Pemberton, an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Ogden Regional Medical Center. “It’s the type where I need peace and I need to feel like it’s over and I’ve helped as many people as I can.”
Pemberton said she’s lost count of the people whose families she’s had to help say goodbye to because they’ve succumbed to COVID-19.
“I’ve used my personal phone to FaceTime families if all of the tablets are taken for other patients,” she said. “I’ve held the hands of loved ones so they weren’t alone when they died. I’ve watched family members tell their mom, dad, son that it’s OK to let go and be at peace. You work every day to keep these patients alive and sometimes you’re unsuccessful and it’s very traumatic.”
Pemberton said the hospital has 14 ICU beds. All were full during her last shift.
“Every person is different with this virus. It’s not like a heart attack where we know exactly how to treat it,” she said. “It varies from person to person. There’s just no rhyme or reason with this virus. We see people in their 20s with their whole lives ahead of them fighting for their lives.”
According to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, health care workers listed burnout, worry, exhaustion and long hours of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) gear as some of the hardest parts of their job during the pandemic.
“The emotional and mental fatigue can be overwhelming at times,” said Dr. Megan Ramsey, a hospitalist at McKay-Dee Hospital. “It’s very hard to watch somebody getting very sick and having them say, ‘Can I get the vaccine now,'” she said. “Having to see that fear … it’s hard to do day after day.”
Trea Silvester, a registered nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital, said it’s traumatizing to see young people having tubes inserted in several places of their bodies.
“They’re swollen and not recognizable. They have sores all over. They can’t breathe on their own,” she said. “We all thought we would see a light at the end of the tunnel at the end of summer but now we’re back in the dark hole. Everyone is tired. It’s hopeless exhaustion, if that makes sense. Our tanks are empty.”
Silvester said COVID does not discriminate.
“It doesn’t care. It can get anyone,” she said. “It’s scary. Even if you think you’re healthy and fit, you can still get it and get it bad. We signed up to help people but we need everyone’s help. Your risk of being hospitalized and overwhelming the system is significantly reduced if you get vaccinated, and if you are vaccinated and get the virus, your chances of being hospitalized and intubated are significantly reduced.”
Dr. Petronella Adomako, an infectious disease physician at McKay-Dee Hospital, said it’s disheartening, sad and depressing to see people coming into the hospitals with conditions that could have been prevented.
“We have seen individuals come in who seem supposedly fine but two weeks later they die. It can have an effect on you mentally,” she said. “To see young people and even healthy elderly people who are fine one minute and die of COVID the next is devastating.
The hospital has 16 ICU beds and all of them are full to the brim. Not all ICU beds are occupied with COVID patients, however, but the hospital has had to shift some of its intermediate medical floor rooms to treat critically ill patients.
“We’ve ended up taking care of a lot of patients who in normal times would be in the ICU,” Ramsey said. “Our intermediate unit here is over half ICU right now. These are patients with complicated illnesses. While it’s not outside of the scope of our training, we’ve had to add a sixth team of doctors to help us out.”
Adomako said she would like to encourage people to avoid social media sites where false information tends to spread about the virus and vaccine.
“In the era of social media, we know there is a lot of disinformation going out there. We want people to get the right information from the right sources,” she said. “Go to the CDC website, the coronavirus website, the FDA website and avoid those unknown sources that are hearsay. We need our leaders to listen to the scientists who read the evidence for themselves.”
“We do not have this virus under control. It’s been going on for nearly two years now, and for all of us to get back to normal we have to work together to care about our neighbors,” she said. “The more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the virus will infect and multiply and change its structure. We love working in this community and we love helping our patients, but we don’t want to see our hospitals continue to fill with COVID patients. We want healthy people. That is our goal. Please continue to wear a mask, practice good hygiene and social distance, and please stay home if you are sick.”