The COVID-19 pandemic has truly changed our lives and communities, shaping the lives of millions of people around the globe. The pandemic has specially placed intense pressure within the healthcare community. Throughout this time, nurses and healthcare workers have risked their lives to save lives and help sick patients.
As more people around the world are getting vaccinated and communities are slowly beginning to re-open, it is important to reflect on the impact COVID-19 had on the healthcare industry. This International Nurse Day, we acknowledge and celebrate all nurses and health care workers around the world who have risked their lives to keep people safe from an unknown and unexpected circumstance.
We have never experienced a global pandemic to this extent before. Although many argue that the spread of viruses and diseases is bound to occur with the increase in population and globalization, the catastrophes produced by the pandemic were, and continue to be, devastating around the world.
Nurses Have Sustained Our Community Like Never Before
It’s unquestioned, however, that healthcare workers have been the true heroes of this pandemic, as they’ve provided holistic care for sick patients under intense circumstances. Their roles in treating COVID-19-related health problems, rushing to save lives, and holding patient’s hands while they take their last breath alone as they were unable to see their families, truly illustrates their wholehearted compassion.
The New York Times reports that there are over 32.6 million COVID-19 infected cases that took the lives of 580,446 people in the United States alone. The International Council of Nurses states that by the end of 2020 there were more than 2,262 nurse deaths reported in 56 countries.
Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses make up the highest number of hospital workers. At the moment, and heightened by the pandemic, the United States is experiencing a shortage of nurses. As the large baby boomer population ages, more nurses will be required for the future. The heightened need for healthcare providers came at a very delicate time, making the need to care for sick COVID-19 patients persistently harder.
A Glimpse Into the Life of a Nurse
To better understand the sacrifices and challenges of working in a hospital amidst the pandemic, we’ve interviewed two nurses working in the Chicago-land area to describe their experiences.
Allison Brown has been working as a registered nurse for just over a year before the pandemic occurred. Valarie Hubbard has been working as a nurse for 10 years and worked at COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution centers throughout the pandemic.
When asked to describe what it has been like for them to be in the medical field during COVID-19, the women answered:
Allison: Working during COVID-19 as a new nurse was indeed very challenging. I had barely made it a year as a nurse when pandemic hit! It was a very hard time for all my coworkers. When going into the COVID-19 unit, we had to do all patient care on our own without technology – all while re-using critical and desperately-needed supplies like masks and gowns. At the same time, without having any hazard pay. The nurses had to lean on each other for help whenever they could.
Valarie: Working in the medical field for me has been both rewarding and disappointing. It saddens me to hear about so many people that have died from COVID-19. Medically, not being able to stop the spread of it, was a huge pain. I was also saddened that people weren’t able to see their families during their final days. I have felt somewhat rewarded in 2021 with the ability to vaccinate individuals. People are grateful that there is a vaccine for the pandemic. It is gratifying knowing that people are anxious and ready to be vaccinated to be safe for themselves and their families.
Nurses and healthcare workers have been the warriors of the pandemic, but we often forget they are human and regular civilians like the rest of us. Health care workers are just as scared, and have higher risks of infection and death, working closely to sick patients.
The U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services describes the environment nurses had to work in as a war. An administrator said, “health care workers feel like they are at war right now… seeing people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s dying…takes a large emotional toll.”
Understanding the different lenses you have, working first-hand with sick patients, what would you want the world to know?
Allison: COVID-19 is very scary and very real. Patients will be doing just fine and then the next second their oxygen levels would drop. It was also a very lonely and sad time, due to the restrictions of not allowing visitors. So, the patients would be pretty lonely, and a lot of the hospital employees were very burned out. It was such a stressful time.
The life of a nurse has always been remarkable, not just through their care for patients, but their lengthy schedules as well. Waking up before sunrise and not getting home until late evening, or working throughout the entire night, nurses place a significant amount of work to care for us. During the pandemic, nurses often worked 24-hour shifts in overflowing hospitals due to the little resources they had at hand.
Many health care workers, especially nurses, had to sacrifice seeing their own families to care for patients. To ensure their own families would not get infected, health care workers often isolated themselves from other family members when they arrived home or temporarily lived away from family. The excessive amount of work and stress placed a significant toll on nurses, as many reported feeling fatigue, exhaustion, and depression due to the pandemic.
When asked if there are any specific instances or memories that stand out to them from their experience in the medical field during COVID-19:
Allison: A specific time that stuck out for me was when I first floated to the COVID-19 unit. Just to give you an idea, when you float to another floor you are already kind of out of your comfort zone, so I was already scared and nervous. I remember putting all the personal protective equipment on and going into my first patient’s room. I just couldn’t believe that some of my fellow employees were doing this every time they came to work. I also remember during the peak of the pandemic how everything felt different. The vibe was different, it was a sad time, and everyone just seemed stressed and unhappy.
Valarie: A moment that stood out to me was seeing a couple of people who were so happy they got the vaccine they actually cried happy tears!
We have all seen the horrific photos circulating the internet of tired doctors and nurses, sick patients in hospitals, and staff members doing their best to keep safe by wearing two, even three face masks. The unpredictable conditions of hospitalized patients added to the stress and anxiety healthcare workers were already experiencing, as many hospitals around the country did not have the proper supplies and tools to care for their patients.
Although the pandemic has been very real and frightening to many of us, there continue to be individuals who do not believe in it. The reliability of scientists and doctors continues to be questioned by skeptics, further impacting the negative side effects of the pandemic. Many people are not doing the proper things to prevent themselves and those around them from falling ill, such as social distancing, wearing masks, or getting vaccinating.
How do you respond to people who do not believe in COVID-19 or refuse to take the vaccine?
Allison: For the people who don’t believe in COVID-19… I feel like it is ridiculous. Honestly, it’s a smack in the face to all the people who lost loved ones and all the healthcare workers risking their lives every day. I wish that those people could’ve seen first-hand and were with me side by side to see what COVID-19 really is. As for the vaccination, I’ve always supported it. However, I believe people have the right to choose whether they want to get vaccinated or not. I personally don’t agree with that in this case, but people have the right to choose what they want in their bodies and what they don’t. However, it’s just like when children go to school – they must have certain vaccines in order to attend class. Eventually, doing something along those lines with the COVID-19 vaccine and the population would be a great idea to keep people safe.
Valarie: I respond to people that do not believe in COVID-19 by the following: I tell people that we know two things, thousands of people have died from the virus and no one has died from the vaccine.
A Hopeful Future
As more vaccines are being distributed around the United States and people are rushing to find available appointments, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A life back to normal, without social distancing and marks, as awkward as that seems, after almost two years.
Our World in Data illustrates that the United States is the fourth highest country in the world where people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, 107 million people are fully vaccinated, making it 32.7% of the United States population.
Now that more people are getting vaccinated, are you hopeful for the future?
Allison: I am hopeful for the future now that more people are getting vaccinated. I don’t know if I truly believe that things will go back to the way they were. I know for myself that even when the mask mandate is lifted (if it ever is), I probably will still wear one. I am hopeful that the number of infections will continue to decrease, but I don’t know how society will ever recover from what happened.
Although COVID-19 cases are beginning to decrease, we must continue acknowledging the sacrifices healthcare workers have given and continue to in order to help our communities. Even as cities are slowly opening back up and lessening restrictions, the reality of the virus should not disappear. Countries around the world are continuing to have high infection peaks with thousands of daily death tolls.
This year’s International Nurse Day we would like to thank nurses around the world who have given their lives to keep us safe. At Topic Insights, we encourage you to show and celebrate the compassion and care nurses have shown us throughout these difficult times. We encourage you to continue wearing your masks and social distance as COVID-19 continues to threaten our society.