Healthcare workers nationwide are reporting some of the worst COVID-19 surges yet, and nurses are documenting their strain in candid video messages, imploring the public for its assistance in fighting the pandemic.
In New Hampshire, nurses said they don’t have much left to give. In Nebraska, a new nurse lamented losing seven COVID patients in just a matter of days. And in Ohio, hospital leaders and frontline workers simply cry “Help.”
“It’s probably our worst surge that we’ve seen so far,” said Hilary Hawkins, BSN, MBA, RN, nurse manager of the emergency department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in a YouTube video posted last week by the health system. She added “we’re also seeing a lot of people who are downright upset and tired, and taking it out on staff. … I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hawkins told MedPage Today in an interview that the goal of the video format is to help the nurses’ message reach the public because seeing people’s faces and other images can be important context when communicating such critical information.
“We’re exhausted, and we need people to help us to help them,” Hawkins told MedPage Today.
The same healthcare workers who were “hailed as heroes just under 2 years ago” are now “nearing the brink of exhaustion,” Dartmouth-Hitchcock said in a press release. “This is directly linked to misinformation surrounding COVID-19 vaccines, which are proven to be safe and highly effective, and the reality of the virus itself. And hospital staff are paying the price.”
The video includes several frontline nurses sharing their daily experiences, frustration, and heartbreak.
“The vast majority of our patients are unvaccinated,” said Chelsea (identified by first-name only), a nurse in the medical ICU (MICU). “They are previously healthy, many of them are young, several of them have been pregnant, and for most of them, not getting vaccinated was a choice that they made. And then they get sick, and they end up in our ICU, struggling to breathe, and they ask us to do everything we can to save their lives. And we try, and we will continue to try, but that doesn’t come without a price. … We don’t have a lot left to give.”
Chelsea told MedPage Today in an interview that one message she wants to convey is that all of the evidence supports how safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are.
“Yes, breakthrough cases are happening, and the vaccine is not going to prevent every case of COVID,” she said. “But, what it does do … is prevent ICU admissions and death. You are not likely to end up in my unit on a ventilator or dying.”
“The surge feels worse than ever before, and the patients are sicker,” said Arielle, another MICU nurse. “And although this feels like the new normal, I don’t feel like anything about this is normal. Our patients are dying alone from a preventable disease. Please, get vaccinated, and please, wear your masks.”
Emily, a nurse in the birthing pavilion at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, told MedPage Today that the current surge has affected more pregnant women. She said COVID-19 vaccines provide protection for pregnant women and their babies.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock stated in the press release that its nurses’ candid thoughts “emphasize the most crucial fact about this pandemic: that vaccination is truly the only way to end it once and for all.”
Further west, Haleigh Seizys, a COVID ICU nurse at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, shared many of the same sentiments. Seizys is featured in another YouTube video posted by the medical center. “In her early 20s, she [Seizys] has seen far too many people dying from this virus,” according to the video. “Please listen to what she’s seen and what you can do to help her and other providers.”
Seizys says her experience working in the ICU has been “life-changing. If you would have told me 2 years ago that this is what nursing would be like, there’s no way that I would have believed you,” she stated. “It’s absolutely extreme. … The experiences that I’ve had with death are truly traumatic.”
Seizys added that her team lost seven patients with COVID in 7 days in a stretch of shifts.
“Those numbers, genuinely, when you think about it, that is tough,” Seizys said. “The weight is really heavy, it’s really heavy.”
Seizys reported that during her 12-hour shifts, she walks an average of 8 miles; she is mentally and physically exhausted. Recently, she went into her manager’s office and cried “so much,” she said. “I think that right now what I am most frustrated with is that a lot of this is preventable.”
“It’s a group effort to reach a point where we don’t have to keep doing this,” Seizys said, adding that “It’s just as easy as getting vaccinated, being wise about who you’re around. If you are vaccinated, get your booster, and protect the loved ones that are at risk. But also recognize that, if you don’t think you are at risk, you really could be.”
Pleading with the Public
Over the weekend, a group of health systems in Ohio — Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, University Hospitals, Summa Health, and St. Vincent Charity Medical Center — took out a sprawling ad in the Plain Dealer newspaper. The ad features the word “Help” against a blank page.
“We now have more COVID-19 patients in our hospitals than ever before,” the ad stated. “And the overwhelming majority are unvaccinated.”
“This is preventable. The best way to avoid severe illness is the vaccine. So, get vaccinated and get your booster. And keep taking all the standard precautions like social distancing, washing your hands, and of course, mask up — even if you’re vaccinated,” according to the ad.
About a week earlier, hospital leaders in Minnesota took out a similar newspaper ad, stating: “We’re heartbroken. We’re overwhelmed.”
Last Updated December 21, 2021
Jennifer Henderson joined MedPage Today as an enterprise and investigative writer in Jan. 2021. She has covered the healthcare industry in NYC, life sciences and the business of law, among other areas.