Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

‘I can never do enough’: I.C.U. workers record their anguish as the coronavirus surges.

A journal that sits in a staff room just off the intensive care unit at a Milwaukee hospital tells the story of the devastating surge of the coronavirus that much of the country is experiencing. In longhand, the nurses and doctors who are tending to desperately ill Covid-19 patients share their thoughts in the journal, as a way to help one another through this.

“It’s just not fair!” one note in the shared diary read this week, as hospitalizations have soared both in this hospital and across the nation. “So over this, and literally nothing makes it better,” the health care worker wrote.

A colleague, overwhelmed by it all, wrote: “Anxiety and depression have been kicking my butt lately.”

On assignment for The New York Times, I spent a morning with Jodie Gord, a nurse manager at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, who put the journal in a room she calls the Zen Den, a place of solace just a few doors down from the chaos of the I.C.U.

During my visit, the unit was a whirl of urgent energy, with scores of medical workers racing to treat about 20 gravely ill people, some of them on ventilators. Staff members went around the room checking oxygen levels and helping some patients move onto their stomachs, a position that can make breathing easier.

As the pandemic has intensified, so has Ms. Gord’s feeling of helplessness as she sees sick patient after sick patient enter the unit. Officials announced 71 coronavirus-related deaths in Wisconsin on Tuesday, a single day record for the state. More than 5,300 new cases were identified statewide, on one of the state’s worst days yet.

“Mentally, I was really going into a dark, slippery slope,” Ms. Gord told me. “In these last two weeks, I really felt it. And I felt it hard. I would be at home and just start crying for no reason.”

In a span of about three hours, two patients in the unit had their oxygen levels drop dangerously low, prompting about half a dozen staff members to rush from bed to bed.

Both patients were stabilized, a bittersweet victory on that morning, which had begun more painfully. Hours earlier, another virus patient, someone who had been in the unit long enough to be well known and beloved by the staff, had died.

As workers rolled a stretcher through the door, the outline of a body visible under a white sheet, tears filled Ms. Gord’s eyes. “I can never do enough,” she said.

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