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Lubbock hospital workers emotionally share what it's like to treat COVID-19 patients

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Sarah Self-Walbrick/Texas Tech Public Media
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Seven Covenant Health System healthcare workers shared their experiences of caring for patients with COVID-19 on Oct. 29, 2020.

The first thing Nurse Lona Ashley said she does every shift is check charts to see who she is caring for that day. She pulls medications, puts on her protective equipment and spends hours with each of her patients. She bathes and feeds them. Doing what she can to make them comfortable.  

 

And when she does take a break? Ashley said she checks in with the families of her patients.  

 

 

“I try to do FaceTime with my families so they can actually see their patient and see how sick they are. See why they’re not better,” Ashley said. “Because the hardest thing is for the family to say ‘What did you do to them? They were walking when I brought them in?’ I’m sorry. They have COVID. We’re doing everything we can.”

Ashley works on one of the COVID-19 floors at Covenant Medical Center. The hospital called a news conference Thursday to give healthcare workers the opportunity to share their experiences caring for some of the sickest patients they said they’ve seen.  

 

“They’re not coming in and dying in one to two days,” said pulmonologist Dr. Brian Williams. “They’re here for three, four, six weeks on life support measures before they die. This is a completely different beast than what we’ve usually been dealing with.” 

 

Those long hospital stays and the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus have made Lubbock a rising pandemic hot spot in the U.S.  

 

Data shows Lubbock has confirmed more than 1,800 cases of coronavirus just since Sunday. Over 250 people are hospitalized with complications of COVID-19 and almost a quarter of them are in ICUs. The 22-county trauma service region that includes Lubbock is at about 70% bed capacity. That’s concerning, but Williams and other healthcare providers are worried about something else.  

 

“The nurses, the respiratory therapists, the doctors, the pharmacists. Those are the most important resources in a hospital,” Williams said. “Not the bed.”
 

Public officials said on Wednesday that around 400  healthcare workers in the city are quarantining after being exposed to or contracting COVID-19. Through contact tracing, hospital administrators say most of the exposure is happening outside of work. Governor Greg Abbott sent additional staff and supplies to the region two weeks ago.  

 

The situation is taking a toll on hospital employees.  

 

“We’re exhausted, we are tired. We’re stretched thin,” Geri Butler, another COVID-19 nurse, said. “We’re coming together, we’re pulling together. Trying to be positive, trying to pull together as a team. But we are tired.”

 

Butler said she tries to spread joy by singing and dancing through her 12-14 hour shifts. But it’s getting harder. 

 

Brooklyn Fleming is a nurse at Covenant Medical Center’s emergency room. She said in her department, they’ve started bedding patients who don’t have COVID-19 in the hallways. Fleming pleaded with people to look beyond the numbers and remember that each hospitalization, and each death, is someone’s loved one. 

 

Ashley and Butler shared the stories of two of their COVID-19 patients who have died. They said when you care for a patient for so long, you inevitably get attached to them and their families. 

 

A few of the nurses who spoke Thursday had the day off. They came in to talk about their work, hoping it would make the city’s dire situation real for people not following pandemic precautions. 

 

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at saselfwa@ttu.edu. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

 

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