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COVID-19 surge takes physical, emotional toll on health care workers

COVID-19 surge takes physical, emotional toll on health care workers

Health

The recent increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations has put tremendous strain on Krystal Lynch and her colleagues in the critical care units at Tidelands Health.

Tears force their way to the surface as Krystal Lynch remembers the people lost.
Amid the surge of COVID-19 cases across our region, Lynch and her colleagues in the critical care units at Tidelands Health have battled the illness with commitment and compassion. They have endured a heart-wrenching teeter-totter of emotions – the euphoric highs when patients overcome long odds to recover counterbalanced by sadness and anguish when others do not.
“We’re working hard,” says Lynch, a registered nurse in the critical care unit at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital. “It’s a lot – physically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s been very tough.”

Pushed to the limits

The increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has pushed hospitals across the region to their limits. All area hospitals are at or near capacity in their emergency departments, intensive care units and inpatient care units, prompting a request for help to the South Carolina National Guard, which has sent about 40 medics to the region to assist.
Fortunately, fears about a persistent shortage of respirators and other gear needed to help protect care providers have diminished, at least for now, though community spread has led to infections among health care workers that – coupled with the staggering rise of cases – has put unprecedented strain on the region’s health care staffing.

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With no cure for the virus or specific antiviral treatment protocol, COVID-19 has proven to be a devastatingly unpredictable illness. Two people with similar backgrounds and medical histories can have polar opposite reactions to the virus and treatments for its symptoms.
Medications such as remdesivir, an antiviral medicine developed to treat Ebola, dexamethasone, a steroid, and convalescent blood transfusions have been shown to help some patients, and clinical trials are underway to evaluate the effectiveness of a variety of other approaches.
“One of the most difficult things about this illness is you just never know,” says Lucas Lambert, a registered nurse in the critical care unit at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital. “Some people, they are good, they are fine – they don’t require a whole lot of attention. Then there’s some – this small percentage of people who unfortunately this virus hits very hard.
“Some of our sickest patients have no medical history, and sometimes people who are doing well suddenly take a turn for the worse without any apparent reason. I pray before work, and I pray after work, that every day will be a successful day and that we come closer to a cure or treatment to make things better.”

Difficult goodbyes

Saying goodbye to patients who have lost battles with COVID-19 has been extremely difficult, Lynch says, sorrow seeping into her voice and tears welling in her eyes. Caregivers often build relationships with patients during their stays.
Family members are unable to visit COVID-19 patients due to safety concerns, so nurses often fill that gap. They build bonds with both patients and their families, providing condition updates, coordinating video chats and even passing along personal messages – in some cases final words of love and support.
“We just hold back our tears until there’s time for it, and until it’s appropriate,” Lynch says. “It’s very heavy on the heart. We are working so hard to do everything we can for these patients. Sometimes it’s just not enough.”

Show your support

Across the region, more than 2,500 Tidelands Health team members are working tirelessly to respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Learn how you can help by clicking here.

Still, the teams in the critical care units and their colleagues are pushing forward. Professionals from a broad range of backgrounds and specialties at Tidelands Health are working in lockstep to support the health system’s response and help the community overcome COVID-19.
“Everybody plays their part,” says Nathan Mattox, director of the critical care unit at Tidelands Waccamaw. “People are stepping up and looking for ways to help.”
He says community support has buoyed the health system’s care providers. Whether in the form of meal donations, cards or simply kind words, all of it makes a big difference.
“Those kinds of things can change your day,” he says. “Knowing that other people are thinking of you and appreciate what you’re doing means a lot.”

Take it seriously

One of the most important ways to help health care workers, both Lynch and Lambert say, is to take the virus seriously.
Lynch longs to hug her mom, a gesture so often taken for granted before the pandemic. But her mom is a lung cancer survivor who lives separately from her, so they only see each other outside and maintain social distance.
“As hard as I work to make sure she’s safe and doesn’t get it, I can only do my part,” Lynch says. “I hope others, no matter how healthy they are, realize that by wearing a mask and following all the other recommendations, they’re not just protecting themselves but also other people who might be more vulnerable.”

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