COVID-19 One Year Later: Healthcare workers reflect

These health care workers have said it’s been a dark journey, but they are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with case numbers going down.
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 11:22 AM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Healthcare workers care for a variety of patients each day, with a priority to save lives. Over the last year nurses and doctors have cared mostly for COVID-19 patients. On the frontlines of this unknown battle.

As of March 11, 2021, Alabama hospitals have cared for 46,246 hospitalized COIVD-19 patients since March of 2020.

These health care workers have said it’s been a dark journey, but they are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with case numbers going down.

Through the darkness, these nurses and doctors pushed through, saved lives, lost lives, but continue to be the hero’s that they are.

On March 13th, 2020 the first COVID case was confirmed in Alabama.

“We were like here it comes, it’s here, and over the next few days, few weeks, we had a few more patients here and there,” Kaci Brannon, CCU-RN at Southeast Health, said. “But I didn’t really realize the severity of it until we had that first major wave where every patient you had was a covid patient.”

Quickly pushing hospitals around the state to becoming strapped with COVID patients.

“We would be about half full on the unit and then we would have some non-COVID patients and then something like President’s Day, or Labor Day would happen and we would fill back up,” Jamesen Pylant, RN at Southeast Health, said. “Just something small like that, a little holiday that we don’t think a lot about and people would go out to the lake and go wherever and then all of a sudden we are full again.”

Healthcare workers around the world put on a brave face while working on the frontlines of this war against the unknown.

“We really had no information for months about what this was, who it was going to effect, how bad it was going to be, we had no test to do to prove who had the disorder,” Dr. Allen Latimer, Head of Critical Care and Medicine at Flowers Hospital, said.

Some nurses just beginning their careers in the health care field.

“When I applied for the job and I talked to my director she did tell me that it was the COVID Unit at the time, and I took the job because I thought, ‘This is what I signed up for, this is why I want to be a nurse, I signed up to help people in times like this,” Pylant said.

While others have been working in it for years, but everyone taking each day, one day at a time.

“It was constant investigating of what new has come out, what potential therapies might be available, folks were scrambling trying to find PPE, we were concerned if we didn’t have enough ventilators,” Dr. Latimer said.

The contagious virus spread like wildfire throughout the state, with over 502,000 cases in Alabama as a whole.

“We were told that probably by mid-April that would be our peak and then everybody was feeling like after that things were going to go down,” Dr. Latimer said. “We realized that wasn’t the peak and that this was really a bad deadly disorder.”

Case after case, caring for COVID patients became second nature.

“You pray about it, you cry about it, you pray with the patience about it and you just do everything you can for them and just hope they are there when you come back,” Pylant said.

10,274 people in Alabama lost their lives to this virus.

“It’s hard to look at people that say, ‘Promise me I’m going to be okay,’ and they may not be,” Brannon said.

“Unfortunately we’ve had a string of those kinds of shifts where we’ve had to tell people goodbye, and loved ones to come and tell them goodbye and it has not gotten any easier, but i will say for every moment like that, there is a beautiful one around the corner,” Kathryn Justice, RN and Clinical Supervisor of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Flowers Hospital, said.

Hospitals across the country being forced to end visitation.

“As difficult as anything, is not being able to have people’s families here and we had people getting sick and dying without their families,” Dr. Latimer said.

Working overtime…

“I was working about 80 hours a week and I was just trying to help out as much as I could,” Pylant said. “It’s like the days I was off I felt guilty for being off because I knew there was something I could do to help.”

And doing everything possible to save lives…

“I would go home and I would just feel so defeated and you leave and you feel like there is more that you could do, because you take care of these patients, and you work on them for weeks at a time because they don’t go home quite as soon as the other patients, you do everything you can for them and they’re just not getting better,” Pylant said.

Now there is a sense of relief as patients are being discharged more and more.

“I work in the ICU and I see them at their worst,” Justice said. “So we saw the sickest of the sick, so it was really exciting to see a lot of people get better at one time.”

But taking an emotional toll on those working on the frontlines.

“We can assume maybe this is a person who is going to get sick but we have people who come in who are doing okay and they slowly get worse and they end up on ventilators and then they don’t survive and this occurs over a month and so the nurses and the respiratory and the lab people all get to know these people ad so a lot of them have past,” Dr. Latimer said.

This pandemic has been a learning experience, for everyone.

“I would kind of like to focus on the grit of the healthcare workers,” Justice said. “I think we’re going to come out of this a lot stronger and more experienced and when I say stronger I mean every aspect of the word. And I think that’s something that only us may see day in and day out is the absolute grit each member of the health care team. Not just the nurses, not just the physicians, but everybody.”

The virus truly impacted the community and changed hospitals around the Wiregrass. Health care workers said they see a dim light at the end of this journey with multiple vaccines rolling out.

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