Mariah: It was the spring semester of my sophomore year when the pandemic began affecting this area. By the time the fall semester of our junior year rolled around, Elkhart County had already been labeled a COVID-19 hotspot by the Indiana Department of Health. For nursing students at GC, junior year of GC’s nursing program is the most time-consuming and has the most rigorous clinical courses, which means countless hours spent in the hospital and working on care plans, in addition to full course loads.We have been fortunate, in a way, to have had hardly any of our clinical rotations canceled because of COVID-19. Fortunate in that we are still able to have in-person clinicals and not miss out on any hands-on learning, but unfortunate in that we were getting our first glimpse of nursing amidst the chaos of a new pandemic. Not only were we new to nursing, but we were being taught by nurses who were experiencing the unfamiliarity, stress, burnout and trauma of the pandemic at the same time as trying to teach us how to be good nurses.
Though in the clinical setting we aren’t directly working with COVID-19 positive patients, it is still always all around us. We hear nurses talk about their patients who are fighting a losing battle, we see the number of positive cases rise and fall in our hospitals and in the county, we watch through windows as patients are intubated and everything is being done to save them.
But it’s not always enough. The strength, determination and resilience of the nurses isn’t always enough. And we know that that will be us. In a matter of months, we will be taking our own patient load and doing everything in our power that we can to help our patients fight this.
TW: Content describes death
Before the pandemic, I had little exposure to death and dying, both in my personal and professional life.
My first encounter was a traumatic one, as I was not expecting to watch the life leave a young man on a Thursday morning.
I was at clinical on the progressive care unit when my instructor told me to come over to the ICU to see if there was anything “interesting” happening. There was definitely something interesting and something I hadn’t seen before. I watched from the doorway as a young man with COVID-19 was being thrown around while nurses tried to get a backboard under him.
His ribs were cracking under another nurse’s arms while she did CPR. His face was pale, and his body was mottled. The code ran for 20 minutes while they scrambled to get ahold of his family. They were doing everything in their power to keep him alive, but they knew it was too late. They were calling for permission to stop CPR and life-supporting measures, as he was too far gone.
Just 45 minutes earlier, he was almost completely stable and on a normal medical-surgical floor. He deteriorated so rapidly that he began coding on the way down to the ICU. It happened so fast, and in the matter of minutes, a normally healthy man was dead.
The doctors walked out of the room like it was nothing; they were used to it. They were worried that another COVID-19 patient would code at the same time and they wouldn’t have enough hands to save both of them.
Because that’s the reality of it – there are too many COVID-19 patients and not enough nurses. And the nurses who are strong enough to do it are burnt out, tired, emotionally drained and numbed from the death they experience daily.