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'Saddening and frustrating' | ICU nurses urge COVID vaccines as hospitals fill up again

The doctors and nurses who battled to save lives early on in the pandemic are overwhelmed again - as hospitalizations continue to surge.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Across the state, we're seeing another surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations - with nearly 3,000 patients in North Carolina seeking treatment and care. The doctors, nurses, and healthcare heroes who battled to save lives early on in the pandemic are overwhelmed again. 

Inside the medical ICU at Moses Cone Hospital, nurses Lisa Frei and Kimberly Jenkins aren't having those tough conversations with their patients - the ones where their patients express regret not getting vaccinated. 

That's because the people they're treating are already too far gone. 

"I’ll be very honest with you - I haven’t had the opportunity, because all the patients I’ve cared for are all on a ventilator," Frei said. "So, the conversation of 'I wish I would’ve gotten my shot, I wish I would’ve taken it seriously'...those conversations are kind of not happening a lot in ICU, because they (the patients) are already that bad off.

"It’s so saddening and frustrating at the same time that all of this can be preventable," Frei continued. 

"They don't really say much except 'help me,'" said Jenkins. "They're all gasping for air, or confused, or not coherent at all."

After more than a year of treating patients, the new wave of patients is upsetting, frustrating, and absolutely exhausting for the medical teams. The patients they see are generally younger, unvaccinated, and getting even sicker this time around.

"I think that we are frustrated because it is preventable. The vaccine has proven that it works," Frei said. "There’s a lot of sadness that comes along with it. There are many days where I go home and I just cry."

"We cry because we give so much of our lives here - our emotional life, our physical life, our mental life - to care for other people. We are nurses because we love to care for other people - and we want to see good, and do good. It is very frustrating that...despite our best efforts, we are unable to do that for people," she continued. 

Jenkins said this time around, the suffering seems different. 

"Because, it could have been avoided," she said. 

Jenkins and other nurses are reliving the heartbreak with the patients and their families. 

"The absolute hardest thing is that the families can’t be there. They can’t come in the room. They can look on the TV screen at their patient dying, and I have to be with them because I don’t want them to die alone, so I hold their hand. I cry with them," she said. 

Both nurses hope is that people see the current trends and react: get vaccinated.

"I wish I could put a GoPro on my head, and just go through 12 hours in the COVID ICU. For the people that don't want to get vaccinated or are scared… I think they would change their mind," Jenkins said. "We don’t have anybody in the ICU that came because of side effects of the vaccine. They came because they didn’t get the vaccine and they have COVID."

The nurses agree, it's going to take all of us to get through this. 

"I wholeheartedly believe that it is our civic today to look out for one another," Frei said. "I would really love it if people could kind of think of it as a whole. We are all in this together. Let’s do this together."


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