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‘We’re tired in the hospital also’: Anchorage nurses weigh in on recent COVID-19 case surge

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 7:33 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The pandemic has been going on for a long time now. For nurses, it feels like it’s even longer.

Alaska’s News Source sat down with four Anchorage nurses who are part of the Alaska Nurses Association, who all felt as though the new wave of COVID-19 cases doesn’t feel like it did when it was the ‘novel’ coronavirus.

Now, hospitals have a much better idea of what they are dealing with when it comes to COVID-19 patients, how to be safer at work and when workers are at home. Testing for the virus is a much more streamlined process. And of course, now there’s a vaccine for the virus.

However, the nurses said they feel that there’s community fatigue because the pandemic has been so far stretched out. Jessie Westin said she doesn’t feel like people are doing as much as they did to mitigate the spread.

“There was a lot of community support with the first round. And this time the cases are increasing, everyone is tired of masking, everyone is tired of COVID,” Westin said. “So it feels to me that there’s less community support for mask wearing, for social distancing. And I mean we’re tired in the hospital also. Of wearing the masks 24/7 while we’re at work. But it has a different vibe now.”

They’re also tired because they said there aren’t as many nurses at hospitals now. Additionally, there are more non-COVID patients in the hospital than there were at the height of the pandemic last year.

Between hospitals generally being busier right now, and a new wave of COVID-19 patients, Kim Kluckman said the nurses are getting swamped with patients.

“Tripling ICU nurses with really sick patients because there’s just not enough nurses to go around,” Kluckman said. “Our management used to never be on the floor. They’re always on the floor now. They’re always picking up patients.”

Kluckman said her entire family ended up getting sick with the virus last November before the vaccine was available. She said she had a plan with her husband for her to sleep on a cot in the garage if that were to happen. The whole time, she said she was terrified of her kids contracting the virus.

Now that there is a vaccine, nurses like Esther Wee are a little confused as to why there are as many people in the hospital sick with the virus.

“It’s surprising, at least to me, that there’s so many people hospitalized with COVID when there’s a vaccine available,” Wee said.

All of the nurses had terrible stories of people who have been sick with the virus and had to go to the ICU. Some patients who recovered said they wouldn’t wish that on their worst enemy, according to the nurses.

Wee said it’s not just the stay in the ICU or even the time on a ventilator that some of her patients had to recover from.

“A lot of people, I don’t think, know that if you do have a chance of surviving COVID after being ventilated, you stay in the ICU for weeks,” she said. “And then possibly staying at a rehab hospital and then getting a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. Even just looking at people’s chest x-rays. I mean your lungs have so much scar tissue that it’s hard to imagine recovering quickly from that.”

Even for the patients who go to the hospital and don’t have to go through such severe treatment, Kluckman summarized what the experience is like.

“There’s so much sadness. Nobody can visit you,” Kluckman said. “You are by yourself in a room until you’re better or until you die.”

By no means is it like that for everyone. Julie Lamay said there’s a lot of people walking into the emergency department who have a low-grade fever or a sore throat.

“They’re concerned, they’re scared of course,” Lamay said. “And you can get a test that’s resulted within an hour, hour-and-a-half. But we are seeing a lot of people who are stable that we’re just discharging to go home and quarantine, ‘take care of yourself,’” she said.

As far as the vaccine goes, none of the nurses think it should be mandatory. However, they believe that there’s too many people making decisions based on what other people think, or something they heard about on social media. They think people should make their decision based on what’s best for them and their families.

The misinformation goes for the people who decided to get vaccinated as well.

“A large number of people perceive that they’re completely safe because they’re vaccinated,” Lamay said. “So when we do our screening and triage and ask ‘do you have a fever? Coughing? Sore throat?’ They’ll be like, ‘I’m vaccinated. I’m vaccinated, I don’t have COVID.’”

She said a good number of the people who walk in saying that actually do have COVID-19, but not always.

They said the vast majority of those patients who contracted the virus even after being vaccinated had minor symptoms compared to the ones who weren’t.

The nurses also expressed that they feel that people who are vaccinated are letting their guard down and not practicing mitigation techniques like social distancing and masks when they feel sick.

Going into what looks like a second wave of the pandemic, these nurses are feeling burnt out but that quitting isn’t an option for them. They feel as though it’s not too late to get informed about the virus and that people should understand that the pandemic is not over yet.

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