This story originally appeared in the Oct. 28 issue of the Community Voice. For a subscription to get the latest local news and sports, call 270-384-9454.
It is not unusual for Tami Strange to cry on her drive home from work. The Covid-19 ICU nurse at T.J. Samson Community Hospital in Glasgow makes her way back to Columbia often through eyes full of tears and with a heavy heart. Strange is worried about her patients.
She just became a practicing nurse last May, though it isn’t exactly what Strange thought she would be doing years ago when she first dared to dream of a career, she knows it is exactly what she’s supposed to be doing.
For now, this is her life as a nurse.
“I really questioned my purpose in life,” Strange said. “I always thought my purpose was to be a nurse. But there came a point in time when I thought, ‘this is not what I signed up for, I didn’t sign up to watch people die. I signed up to fix people, get them healthy and send them home.’”
Fellow nurse Susannah Trammel agrees.
“It is an emotional roller coaster,” she said. “We see some get well, but even when they leave to go home, they’re on oxygen, or they’re sent to long-term acute care. It is hard to see all of this because we as nurses see our family members there.”
Strange said working in a Covid-19 unit keeps nurses both physically and mentally tired. She said it is nothing for her to go into a patient’s room to help because their numbers have gone down, to only leave the room, look at the patient screens at the station, and see another patient in medical need. There is always something happening.
“The atmosphere in the unit is very heavy and dark. When you have so many people on ventilators it is like hope is being pushed out of the room,” Strange said. “It is a type of reality, and a type of death I have never seen before now. You’re in and out of rooms just trying to keep your patients stable.”
Most of the patients come into the Covid-19 unit feeling very anxious about being there. They think, Strange said, they must be getting worse because they ’re there. She said she’s seen patients not sleep for days because they’re afraid if they close their eyes they won’t wake up. In the meantime, the nurses try to always stay positive and sometimes tell the patients, “Go to sleep, we’ve got you.”
Strange said when the positivity doesn’t work and the patients die, it affects everyone.
“I have been known to just hold their hands and sing to them,” Strange said. “I try to smile through the tears. It is like being at a funeral and you don’t even know the person; your heart just breaks for them.”
“Death is never routine,” said Trammel. “Even though we may know a patient is not going to make it, we try everything we can to save them. We whisper a prayer every time, and just trust God has a plan for them.”
With that kind of daily stress, nurses look for ways to decompress.
“You try to let the stress come off you, but when you go to bed, you can still hear the patients during their Facetime sessions with their families. You hear the ‘I love You,’ all the regrets about not being able to do what they wanted to do. I have always been good about leaving work at work, but with this job you can’t.”
“I think working this job has made me value life more,” said Trammel. “There is a small time period where the patients are getting worse, and they realize the oxygen they’re getting is not enough to keep them alive. Until Covid, I had never had a patient ask me to be put on a ventilator. There have been many that have asked that.”
Strange said she isn’t sure what the future of this pandemic holds. She just knows she wants everyone to be safe.
“I hope there is an end to this. My prayers are it will become where we get a vaccine for it once a year,” Strange said. “I think for a while, this is going to be our new norm. I will tell you the patients that go through less physically and recuperate faster, have been vaccinated. (Non-vaccinated people) if they’ve seen what I have seen, they wouldn’t hesitate to get the vaccine.”
By Scott Wilson