Often I hear people say the pandemic is nothing. I find that hard to understand. Recently, I heard an astonishing interview with an astonishing person on Amanpour & Company. The interviewee was a travelling crisis nurse called Chelsea Walsh. She travelled around the United States to many different states when they were in the worst crisis ever. She went to New York, Arizona and Texas when they were all at crisis stages. If a Covid crisis was spiking in one state that’s where she went. She went to the worst places, at the worst times, and she did it deliberately and intentionally. She must be crazy.
Why did she go? “I knew that people needed help and I wanted to help them,” she said. This reminded me of the Russian union men who went to Chernobyl and then went right into the contaminated centre of the storm, knowing they would die, because they were Russians and Russians suffered and they were asked to help they helped. That’s it. Crazy heroes.
Walsh went at great personal risk to herself. Many health care workers in the US have contracted Covid-19 and have died. Yet she did it anyway. She had the support of her fellow professionals, her supervisors, the hospital, the management, and most important the people. The Communities supported her. Until they didn’t. First some stopped listening to her and her colleagues. They thought they knew more than the professionals. They “knew” Covid-19 was no big deal. This over confidence led to more cases than there should have been. This nearly overwhelmed her and her fellow professionals.
The US at this stage when Walsh talked had more than 260,000 deaths from this disease. 12 &1/5 million people were infected. What do people think is unreal about this illness? Why do they not take this seriously? Walsh compares these people to people that have been warned by meteorologists that a lightning storm is on the way and it can be dangerous, so be careful and stay out of the storm. Some people run into the storm with a lightning rod in their arms saying “we don’t believe in lightning.” How is that possible? Walsh asked, “How do you convince people who don’t believe in lightning that lightning is real?”
One day Walsh ran out of the hospital at the end of her day exhausted and crying. A young woman had come into the ICU with Covid-19 “bleeding profusely from her nose, her eyes, her vagina. Everywhere. Then you realize this is something that is contagious. When you leave the hospital you might have it.” The woman had bled out. Screaming. Walsh said, “Whatever she had I don’t want that.” Whatever it was, it was real.
When she sees a young woman in such horrific condition and she realizes that could be her lying in that bed it is deeply disturbing. She pointed out that nurses like her develop a bond with their patients. Neither of them can go home to their families. They are alone in the hospital as is the nurse. They are together all the time. “It is like watching a friend die,” she said.
Then when she talks to the family they often have panic attacks. Some of them did not believe Covid was real. They did not realize how serious this illness is. Some have significant guilt because they gave it to the patient who died.
Walsh has therapy once a week now because of all she has seen, said and had to do. She is suffering from “Covid PTSD” as she calls it. A lot nurses of nurses are developing it. The nurses talk about it all the time. They have empathy with their patients. Now all around them patients are dying.
“A lot of these places don’t have enough support staff anymore. They have all quit or been fired. It’s now mainly doctors and nurses on the ground floor. In some places the doctors won’t even help anymore; they won’t even go into the rooms anymore. It’s still up to the nurses, and we felt from the very beginning most of us that talked about it we’ve pretty well been sacrificed. Our lives would be worth less than everybody else from the beginning by being told only we could go in to see the patients. So there is a constant fear of ‘why us’? And again, when it going be to our turn to be in that hospital bed?”
As if that is not bad enough in some places they don’t have the PPE they need or the supplies they need. They are not getting the support they need. Sometimes they are running out of medications or supplies they have to rationed. Imagine the decisions they have to make!
At the same time the nurse/patient ratio is going up and this is what kept them alive. That means they have less time to spend with each person.
Added to that, “a lot of risky things have happened and are happening that make the entire situation very unstable and very unsafe right now.”
These are all things that make it very different from seasonal flu spikes. Those are bad and they stress hospitals and care workers too, but nothing like this. This is different!
Walsh was asked what hospitals should be doing:
“Right now what people should be concentrating on is protecting their nurses, because once we’re gone there is no more hospital standing, because without us there is nobody to do the skills. These hospitals are already turning into these ghost town situations where there’s not enough staff to take care of a hospital. And we’re doing our best. In some places I’ve had to do housekeeping; I’ve had to be the secretary; I’ve had to be the pharmacist. I’ve had to do every job in the hospital because nobody else is working. And then the doctors still won’t go into these rooms and we have to do doctor’s assessments. So nurses are literally picking up all the fields that are leaving the hospital and if we’re gone and we’re not protected the hospital can’t stand. So right now the highest priority hospitals should have is protecting their nurses, because we’re keeping the hospital standing.”
This is what an overwhelmed hospital looks like. People who won’t wear masks or wont’ wash their hands or won’t believe in Covid-19 should really pay attention. People who don’t think the pandemic is a big deal should think again. This is real.
As Hari Sreenivasan asked, “why is it that nurses are telling us that people are literally dying without believing the very thing that is killing them?” Walsh, I believe has the right answer, “Because everything became politicized. Politics invited itself into medicine and then divided everything.” When politics came in it caused people to choose sides. They say, “my side” does not believe in Covid. So I will stick to my side no matter what. That is the way polarized politics works. People choose sides rather than the truth.
Walsh says that instead of listening to their doctors and nurses, people listen to their political leaders who don’t care about them and, even worse, don’t know what they are talking about. The nurses also also hate wearing masks at all times. They also care about the economy. They also want to go to the bar after work. But they also care about their patients and want this thing to be over. No one wants it to be over more than him or her. Listen to them. As Walsh said, “If anyone wants an unbiased opinion ask your nurse or doctor.”