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"I would say there was nothing that could prepare us for what this year was going to look like," said Erin Bull, Registered Nurse at Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro.
"I think it was one that we just kind of had to roll with the punches. We had to communicate, we had to adapt, we had to change a lot of the ways that we used to do things."
The assistant director of the Wesley Long ICU vividly remembers the first days and weeks of the pandemic. "When COVID initially came, a lot of staff were fearful, they were concerned. I was fearful, I was concerned so we had to provide quick education, we had to get the rooms up and ready to take care of these COVID-19 patients very quickly."
Since then, Bull said they've been tested over and over again. "There have been some shifts that have pushed us to our edge and there's some that we've had to lean on each other for."
It’s a continuous cycle that's had plenty of ups and downs.
"We've seen really sad times and we've seen miracles happen,” said Bull. “We've seen patients that, by all accounts, shouldn't have survived and they do survive."
It's been a similar year at Wake Forest Baptist in Winston-Salem.
"It's been a lot of work,” admitted Dr. Ashish Khanna. “More work than arguably most of us have done in our entire careers."
The Intensivist and Anesthesiologist said this is the kind of work you take home with you.
"People think we take care of a lot of patients and they're just numbers for us but let me tell you, that is not the case,” said Dr. Khanna. “When we have a conversation like this, they stay with you, they stay with me and they're always going to stay with me."
ICU staff has learned to take on a family member-type role as patients deteriorate in a quarantine zone. “There are others who held my hand who said things like, 'please tell my wife that I love her,'" reflected Dr. Khanna.
Each of Dr. Khanna's patients has a different story and a different outcome but at the forefront of his mind is Shammy Dorsey of Lexington. The 18-year-old's severe COVID-19 illness caused pneumonia and a heart attack. The teenager spent two and a half months in the ICU but eventually recovered.
"This was an incredible feat,” said Dr. Khanna. “So definitely, he stays with me in my mind and he's going to stay with me forever."
For Erin Bull, it's the best and worse outcomes that stick with her. "We've cared for multiple family members in our unit, many of them didn't survive. I think about the ones that didn't then I also have to think about the ones that did."
Considering all they've been through, both doctor and nurse are confident we're headed in the right direction.
"To hear that really our community is wearing their masks, the vaccination clinics, people are getting vaccinated, it makes me feel like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel,” said Bull.
"I strongly believe that we're going to see the other side of this,” said Dr. Khanna. “We've just got to believe in ourselves and our abilities to be resilient and do the right thing."
Bright hope for our future from some of the people who've seen our darkest of days.