Nurse chronicles experience inside COVID ICU at metro hospital in new book
For Amanda Peterson, memories of the pandemic are still very much with her.
“At first, it was just fear, I mean, there was so much fear, and we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” she recalled. “You’re walking into a room that has COVID in it, working in that environment.”
Peterson, an ICU nurse at Allina Health’s United Hospital, worked in the COVID unit from March 2020 to March 2021.
Then, with the rise of the delta variant, she did it again, from September 2021 until this past March.
“Often, the whole unit would be ventilated,” Peterson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “So not one person using a call light, not one person eating, not one sense of normalcy. You had this whole unit that couldn’t breathe.”
The Hudson mother-of-two began writing in bits and pieces.
Putting into words what she had seen, heard, and felt.
“I found myself like writing on everything, and I think it was. I called it paper therapy,” Peterson noted. “There was so much fear, so much misinformation and so much questioning by the public. It became really difficult. And I would go back to work and see the people who rolled that dice wrong and were going to lose because of it. It was so heartbreaking.”
Her writings began as a kind of COVID diary with pictures.
“I put it all together, and it was like 75 pages,” Peterson recalled. “I sent it to two different publishers and just asking if someone would bind it for me.”
She eventually did find a publisher for a book titled, “Everybody Just Breathe” — a COVID nurse memoir.
“I didn’t go into it planning anybody to read it, but I’m really glad I did,” Peterson said. “I feel like it’s hit a nerve, and I think a lot of people understand, and I think we all went through something big.”
In the book, she describes treating hundreds of COVID patients, walking into a place where the virus lives, all while wearing protective gear.
“To go into the unit, you put on your big respirator, but your hair is covered, your eyes are covered, and all day, you’re in that,” Peterson explained. “We only would leave the unit to maybe go eat or take a drink, but all phone calls, all charting, everything, all patient care was done in full gear.”
Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said she’s had the same experience.
Turner, a COVID ICU nurse at North Memorial Health Hospital, believes the book is an acknowledgment of the work of frontline medical workers.
“A death at the beginning of the shift and a death at the end of the shift, and six deaths in a weekend,” she noted quietly. “Not only taking care of the person dying of COVID, but the ongoing disbelief and anger. This is from family members. Sadness, loss. Can you imagine all of the emotions and working with these people who are trying to breathe?”
“I can’t imagine how scary that would look to have all these people who are dressed like aliens,” Peterson added. “When you can’t breathe, you’re already so sick.”
This nurse-turned-author credits her family with giving her balance and encouragement.
Peterson said as the pandemic worsened, she and her husband Collin, and their two kids, 9-year-old Sammy, and 6-year-old Lewie, went on nature outings.
“I couldn’t handle public places, and I couldn’t handle staying inside, so we just escaped,” she says. “I think we took a tour of every national park we could reach within an hour of our home.”
Peterson says she dedicated the book to ‘Jack,’ a name symbolizing the thousands of COVID patients out there, and to the frontline medical workers who fought to save them.
She said she’s sold 1,000 copies in less than a month — and that the book is in its second printing.
Some buyers are from states ranging from Louisiana to New Jersey, and internationally, from Canada, the UK, and even New Zealand.
Peterson ends the book with these words: “Thank you for letting me care for you. It was the honor of a lifetime.”
“My biggest takeaway and the think I would like the public or anybody who likes to read is this: that we were living this all together,” she says. “I feel we’re all going to heal together, too, and I hope reading my story will help that.”