Emergency Department

202 S. Park St.
Madison, WI 53715

24 min Average
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A Look Into UnityPoint Health - Meriter's COVID ICU

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A respiratory therapist and RN Corey Smith prepare a ventilator for a patient.

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.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. 

nullUnityPoint 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. 

nullVanoy 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. 

nullNurse 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.”



nullNursing Assistant Tulio Gonzalez, along with members of our ICU care team, prepare to enter a patient’s room.

nullLisa Travis, an environmental service staff member, cleans a recently emptied room in the ICU.

nullA staff member adjusts their gloves before entering a patient room.
nullJaimie Chadwick, RN, prepares to administer medication to a COVID-19 patient. 

nullMaria Pagel, RN, nearly suited up before entering a COVID-19 patient’s room. 

nullA staff member wheels a patient back into their ICU room. 

nullRN Maria Pagel and Nursing Assistant Erin Zimmermann prepare an infusion pump to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room.

nullA sign reading “Beet COVID” hangs outside of a patients room in the ICU. 

nullStacy Teachout, RN, making sure her N95 is seated correctly before entering a patient’s room. 

nullDestani Kieler, a respiratory therapist, looks out into the hallway from inside a COVID-19 patient’s room.

nullOutside every room with a COVID-19 patient is a sign reiterating airborne and contact precautions necessary for entry.

nullMaria Pagel, RN, works on a chart at the nurse's station.

nullRespiratory therapist Amy Duerk in a COVID-19 patient's room.

nullVanoy Allen, RN, checks vitals of a COVID-19 patient. 

nullLisa Travis, an environmental service staff member, prepares to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room.

nullA staff member ties her gown, preparing to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room in the ICU.

nullScott Olson, RN, prepares himself to enter a COVID-19 patient’s room in the ICU. 

nullA nurse adjusts a COVID-19 patient in their bed in the ICU. 

nullKrystal Allman, RN, speaks on the phone in the ICU in front of a wall of personalized PPE storage paper bags.

nullScott Olson, RN, adjusts his stethoscope while checking a COVID-19 patient’s vitals. 

nullNursing Assistant Erin Zimmermann using hand sanitizer, a staple outside every patient room. 

nullKristi Smith, RN, puts on her face shield while preparing to enter a COVID-19 patient room. 

nullKristi Smith, RN, administers medication to a COVID-19 patient in the ICU. 

nullA COVID-19 patient rests in their room in the ICU.

nullNurse Manager Marzena Schumann begins assembling her powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) before entering a COVID-19 patient’s room.

nullMarzena Schumann, Nurse Manager, in full PPE outside a patient’s room in the ICU. 

nullA patient and their care team mid-transport in the ICU with multiple pieces of lifesaving equipment.

nullNurse Manager Marzena Schumann adjusts a COVID-19 patient’s IV.
nullNursing Assistant Erin Zimmermann and Kristi Smith, RN review a monitor in the hallway of the ICU.

nullAn EKG tech prepares to enter a patient room. 

nullRespiratory Therapist Amy Duerk in a COVID-19 patients room.

nullMat Trapp, RN, checks on a COVID-19 patient in the ICU.