“There’s something special about nurses, I think,” says Thea Hedstrom, quietly. “Each person is a different story, and we get just a little glance into their lives.”
Make no mistake.
In the Bethesda Hospital ICU, every patient is COVID-positive.
This is a war.
“The last few shifts I’ve worked, we’ve had at least one person pass away,” says Emily Allen. “I’ve dealt with death before in my career, unfortunately. It’s a part of life. This is death like I’ve never experienced before.”
Hedstrom and Allen, both registered nurses, have worked in the unit since late March.
12-hour shifts, where fear is an almost constant companion.
"We have to wear these masks for 12 hours,” Allen explains. “After a shift, your throat is dry, and you think, ‘Oh gosh, is this a sore throat from… do I have COVID?’ It’s constantly in the back of your mind.”
There are victories, signs of life and hope.
"You get to be part of a patient FaceTiming their spouse for the first time in a month because the spouse had been on a ventilator,” Allen smiles. “That's a high for us. We’re thrilled. These people are miracles.”
But as the COVID-19 death rate continues to climb, there are moments of heartbreak.
“There was a patient who had wanted to be surrounded by flowers. That was her last dying wish,” Hedstrom says softly. “We all made flowers and hung them in her room for her.”
Between the roller-coaster of the emotions, the hardest moments, both women say, is when a patient has to say goodbye.
"If death is imminent for a patient, we are able to suit one family member at a time up in the PPE, and bring them to the bedside to say goodbye to their loved one,” Allen says. “I can’t describe to you what that was like, to only have one person in the room, when you’re used to having multiple people be able to say goodbye.”
One of their biggest worries is the future.
“The more people congregate together, the higher the chance of the virus spreading,” Allen says. “I look at it as a mountain, so to speak, and now we’re starting to climb that mountain. It’s starting to happen faster, and numbers are starting to rise.”
For these nurses, the victories, and the losses, are personal.
“I find myself praying for them at night, at home,” Hedstrom says. “Crying after a long shift on my way home from work, just for the family, for the patient, all of this.”
From one front-line soldier, a promise:
“We’re not going to stop fighting,” Allen says. We’re here, we love Minnesota, we love the people, and we aren’t going to quit. This is our job, and we love doing it.”
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