‘This is a whole different crisis than we went to school for’: A day in the life of an ICU nurse during COVID-19

A day in the life of an ICU nurse during COVID-19

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - The coronavirus hit Albany hard.

First responders were vital in keeping everyone healthy.

A nurse working on Phoebe’s COVID-19 floor recalled some of the most trying times, in the worst parts of the pandemic.

Shaun Hall saw firsthand the effect the pandemic had on the community while working with COVID-19 patients in the ICU.
Shaun Hall saw firsthand the effect the pandemic had on the community while working with COVID-19 patients in the ICU. (Source: WALB)

Shaun Hall saw firsthand the effect the pandemic had on the community while working with COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

“When all of this started, I’m just a bedside nurse working in the labor pull department and when the original, what we call ‘patient zero,’ when we found out later that he had been diagnosed positive after he’d left our hospital, they took a lot of nurses out of quarantine just to be cautious. That thrust me into a role covering the clinical supervisor’s spot in the main campus ICU,” Hall said.

Hall said at that time, Phoebe had 38 ICU beds. Because of the number of patients they were tending to, they were operating closer to 60 beds.

Some of the biggest challenges he and his coworkers faced, Hall pointed out, was dealing with the amount of death they saw.

“Being an ICU nurse, you know death is not a stranger to us, but seeing the people and the ages that we lost, a 27-year-old young lady that you know she shouldn’t have. You didn’t expect, you didn’t see it coming, and then, she was just gone. It was those things are hard to come to terms with,” Hall said.

“There was one day that I had to manually ventilate a patient for about 30 or 40 minutes while I waited on them to clean a ventilator, they had to get one from a patient that had just passed, clean it, and then bring it in there and hook that patient up before we could get her on the ICU bed. That was a trying day.”

Hall said he couldn’t put into words the effects it had on patients unable to see family members.

“One of the hardest things about this entire situation for me was, I had, I was over at SICU talking with some other nurses and Will Runyon, our head chaplin, was walking up and he was on a FaceTime phone call. And I watched him as he asked the lady ‘are you ready to see him,’ and then, he turned the camera around and this was her seeing her deceased husband and this was her goodbye moment,” Hall recalled. “And to witness that being over a FaceTime call, that was of all the stuff that we saw in all of this that was probably the worst for me.”

He said nurses are results-based people.

In a time of so much death, they held on tight to the successes they saw.

“It was hard to balance, it really was. When you had whole families coming in here just you know, decimated by this virus. You know the one person that made it out alive it was hard to get all of your hope out of that, but you just had to find it,” Hall said. “There’s this one family it was a mother, daughter. They were on opposite sides of the unit and mom passed. The daughter, it took a very long time, but she is probably one of our biggest success stories. She literally walked out the door of the hospital and it was a beautiful thing.”

Health care workers endured months of emotional and mental strain. Their day-to-day work doubled as they adjusted to life in the unprecedented pandemic.

Sara Cornwell works hand in hand with health care workers, making sure they get the support they need.
Sara Cornwell works hand in hand with health care workers, making sure they get the support they need. (Source: WALB)

Sara Cornwell works hand in hand with health care workers, making sure they get the support they need.

“I’m in the business of promoting the emotional and mental wellbeing of our employees,” Cornwell said.

Cornwell said the pandemic did affect health care workers.

“We did see an increase in depression and anxiety, those were probably the two main symptoms we saw, but obviously, everyone responds to trauma and grief differently. That’s a journey it’s not dealt with overnight, so this is going to be a battle that we will be combating for years,” said Cornwell.

She said she noticed many nurses feeling helpless.

“I remember one day being on the unit or on the floor and seeing our nurses simultaneously needing to be in two or three rooms at one time and those patients would crash and crash fast,” Cornwell said. “Trying to be something for everyone I think was difficult in those days.”

A look at the COVID-19 floor at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.
A look at the COVID-19 floor at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. (Source: Phoebe)

Cornwell believed many of them were feeling overwhelmed.

“In health care, we’re trained to deal with crisis,” Cornwell said. “This is a whole different crisis than we went to school for.”

She said the vaccines bring light to the end of the tunnel.

“I believe so many people were kind of in a survival mode there for a while and I think we’re starting to feel like we’re thriving again. I think not only did we have support here within our leadership and our hospital, the community was also a huge part of that,” Cornwell said.

Hall agreed with her.

“As much as we’ve been apart, there had been a spirit of togetherness in this because we’ve all been in the same fight, and you know hopefully that spirit will continue on and that we can do big things together as a community still,” Hall said.

He said he hopes everyone will accept the vaccine which could lead to normalcy again.

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