Photo Essay by Kori Young
It’s never completely quiet. Sometimes it’s just the distinctive rhythmic sigh of the ventilators, beep of the tube feeding machines, or the click of a door closing shut; and other times the alarms of a code, crinkling of a PPE paper bag, and frantic feet.
RN Julie Lord, who was redeployed from her normal unit to support COVID-19 patients, enters information on a computer workstation at the nurses' station in the ICU.
In the heart of Madison, the ICU staff at UnityPoint Health – Meriter are both exhausted and determined to help patients “beet” COVID-19. Coming and going from shifts, they are greeted by the masked and the maskless outside, but inside, on this floor of the hospital, everyone’s learned to read each others eyes. And those eyes tell heartbreaking stories.
For one day, for only a few hours, we documented our ICU. Just a brief moment in a battle that is still raging to stop a deadly pandemic.
COVID has not followed any normal rules.
UnityPoint Health – Meriter staff speak with a COVID-19 patient in their room in the ICU.
“We have always cared for the sickest of the sick in the ICU. We have cared for patients during their most vulnerable moments. What’s different with COVID is the sheer number of patients who are so close to death. At shift huddle, the mood is dark because we know the chances of patients getting better and living a quality life is slim.” When the fall surge hit, it was like nothing our veteran staff had ever seen.
The act of preparing to enter a room is fraught with challenges, and in some ways, feels like a race. A patient is coding; “Hurry!” The internal dialogue checklist on repeat: gown, gloves, N95, and face shield.
Vanoy Allen, RN, fixes her face shield as she prepares to enter a COVID-10 patient’s room.
Personal safety means limiting exposure, even with our steady supply of PPE, but often the need to keep a patient alive means hours on end sweating, and managing multiple equipment alarms in a single room.
The Health Unit Coordinator on duty fields family calls, feeling helpless explaining to family members the necessary visiting policy restrictions, offering a zoom call as if that can adequately replace being with a loved one in a time of need.
In the zoom call a nurse tries to carefully explain the patient's status and turns the camera towards someone who is paralyzed, with tubes attached to every orifice. The nurse watches, heartbroken, as a family tries to sing happy birthday through tears, and the patient is too delirious to recognize the voices.
Nurse Manager Marzena Schumann in a COVID-19 patient’s room in the ICU.
This is where we are, and the emotional toll is real. Our mental health specialist normally spends her shifts with patients and families in crisis, now it’s the staff that she supports in order to cope and grieve the loss they are seeing.
Going home isn’t a reprieve. Being exhausted and frustrated results in snippy arguments at best, and ostracized family members who think COVID-19 is fake at worst. Through all of that, our staff try and stop their mind from floating back to the unit, and the code they saw last. The tears are unstoppable.
“I think to myself that we just need to hang on a little while longer, and then another surge hits.”
Nursing Assistant Tulio Gonzalez, along with members of our ICU care team, prepare to enter a patient’s room.
Lisa Travis, an environmental service staff member, cleans a recently emptied room in the ICU.
A staff member adjusts their gloves before entering a patient room.
Jaimie Chadwick, RN, prepares to administer medication to a COVID-19 patient.
Maria Pagel, RN, nearly suited up before entering a COVID-19 patient’s room.
A staff member wheels a patient back into their ICU room.
RN Maria Pagel and Nursing Assistant Erin Zimmermann prepare an infusion pump to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room.
A sign reading “Beet COVID” hangs outside of a patients room in the ICU.
Stacy Teachout, RN, making sure her N95 is seated correctly before entering a patient’s room.
Destani Kieler, a respiratory therapist, looks out into the hallway from inside a COVID-19 patient’s room.
Outside every room with a COVID-19 patient is a sign reiterating airborne and contact precautions necessary for entry.
Maria Pagel, RN, works on a chart at the nurse's station.
Respiratory therapist Amy Duerk in a COVID-19 patient's room.
Vanoy Allen, RN, checks vitals of a COVID-19 patient.
Lisa Travis, an environmental service staff member, prepares to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room.
A staff member ties her gown, preparing to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room in the ICU.
Scott Olson, RN, prepares himself to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room in the ICU.
A nurse adjusts a COVID-19 patient in their bed in the ICU.
Krystal Allman, RN, speaks on the phone in the ICU in front of a wall of personalized PPE storage paper bags.
Scott Olson, RN, adjusts his stethoscope while checking a COVID-19 patient’s vitals.
Nursing Assistant Erin Zimmermann using hand sanitizer, a staple outside every patient room.
Kristi Smith, RN, puts on her face shield while preparing to enter a COVID-19 patient room.
Kristi Smith, RN, administers medication to a COVID-19 patient in the ICU.
A COVID-19 patient rests in their room in the ICU.
Nurse Manager Marzena Schumann begins assembling her powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) before entering a COVID-19 patient’s room.
Marzena Schumann, Nurse Manager, in full PPE outside a patient’s room in the ICU.
A patient and their care team mid-transport in the ICU with multiple pieces of lifesaving equipment.
Nurse Manager Marzena Schumann adjusts a COVID-19 patient’s IV.
Nursing Assistant Erin Zimmermann and Kristi Smith, RN review a monitor in the hallway of the ICU.
An EKG tech prepares to enter a patient room.
Respiratory Therapist Amy Duerk in a COVID-19 patients room.
Mat Trapp, RN, checks on a COVID-19 patient in the ICU.