'It’s just hard not to have a breakdown.' Doctors, nurses still struggling during pandemic

COVID-19 hospital nurse
Posted at 3:09 PM, May 12, 2021

May 12 is the last day of National Nurses Week, and what a year it has been for them and other first responders who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even with all the strides that have taken place to fight the virus and with national COVID-19 numbers declining in most states, nurses and doctors say they still find themselves struggling at times.

When asked how they were feeling at this time during the pandemic, nurses and doctors we spoke with replied with the following:

“Sometimes, I feel like I become numb to what’s going on or try to block it out,” said Kara McKee, an ICU nurse at a hospital in Colorado. “I just had a patient’s family member crying and that, for the last year, is what we’ve been dealing with. You’re sitting there and you’re taking care of a patient and you remember something that has happened the last year, and I just get emotional. It’s just hard not to have a breakdown.”

“I cry,” added Kathy Gallegos, another ICU nurse. “It’s OK because, again, we have each other to help us. I remember putting on my N95 mask for the first time in a couple months and just feeling my anxiety start to rise.”

“I think you can’t help but have a little bit of that at times,” said Dr. Adam Barkin, an emergency physician.

“When you can’t do anything as a physician you kind of have to take a step back and say, ‘Well, what did docs do for 2,000 years? What did we all do before we had antibiotics?' And it was, 'We were there,'” added Dr. James Hunt, a critical care physician. “It was that human experience of being there with someone. Caring always, even though we can’t cure.”

Has the vaccine changed how things operate inside the hospital?

“Well, I think yes. I think people have far more comfort,” said Dr. Barkin. “I think that everyone was nervous about any interaction you had with any person; whether it was a patient, a fellow physician, a nurse, because there were so many asymptomatic carriers of COVID and you just didn’t know.”

“I think they’ve improved,” added Gallegos. “It’s just sad when we start getting more of those patients in, but overall, I would say overall I think things have improved. I think it has improved morale in our unit.”

“I think we have a very special bond on our unit and if it weren’t for them, it would have been a more difficult year,” said McKee.

Do you see that light at the end of the tunnel? How does it look now compared to maybe back in December?

“The light? Yeah, I see it,” said Dr. Hunt. “I see it as 70% or so. More, hopefully, as more people are getting vaccinated.”

“We’re hopeful,” added Dr. Barkin. “And I think the vaccines will take us to that next real stage of normalcy which I think we all hope for. As James said, having those conversations is crucial and we’ll get there.”