With staggering COVID-19 case numbers, hospitals at or near capacity, and death rates climbing, one almost becomes desensitized to the news.

Unless you experience it firsthand.

There is no more riveting tale than the one going on close to home, in our own communities. The nurses who are in the health care facilities, in the buildings, and in the rooms, give testimony that is impossible to refute.

The stories they tell are both compelling and alarming. Their pleas desperate. Their exhaustion palpable.

They speak candidly about the fight they face with COVID-19 every day at work and in their personal lives. Their tones frank, their experiences dire.

Their voices demand to be heard.

Note: These amazing nurses wish to remain anonymous. They don’t work together or even know each other. They were free to share whatever details they wanted. Their opinions and experiences are uniquely and entirely their own.

Here are their stories.

Nurse A:

We’re tired. We’re stressed. We’re beyond exhausted and the mental toll this is taking on us, especially those working in the ICUs and other front lines, is horrendous. And having to listen to friends and family who come up with every excuse in the world why they shouldn’t have to wear a mask, much less follow any other measures, is just the straw that’s breaking our backs. The measures aren’t going to stop the spread—but they might help us slow it down enough to keep us from being overwhelmed. If “every life matters,” then wear a mask, wash your hands, and stop social gathering.

I want to see my family, too. I want to have holidays with my whole family. I’m missing out on all that and am just as sad about it. But if it will keep JUST ONE PERSON from the suffering I’ve seen in the hospital, I will do it.

Healthcare workers are NOT your first line of defense. We are your LAST. The community is your first line and that has failed. If we can regroup and recover our frontline defense in the community, then the last line of defense in the hospitals (your doctors, nurses, nurse aides, pharmacists, cleaning services, etc.) might have a fighting chance.

So please, stand strong on the front lines. Your health care team on the last line begs you.

Nurse B:

There’s so much I could say . . . to be honest, I’m trying really hard to stay positive and optimistic through all of this. Sometimes it’s really hard with the constant changes.

The beginning of all this was terrifying because I didn’t want to bring any germs home to my kids or loved ones. Then right when I felt confident in our control with COVID, all hell broke loose. Inpatient numbers more than doubled, staff continue to fall ill, and they’re shifting nurses from the clinic into the hospital to help with nursing needs. They’re even asking retired nurses to come back. They’re closing OR’s & delaying elective surgeries again because we don’t have beds post-op.

It is so frustrating that people continue to belittle the seriousness of the situation we’re living in. The pandemic is real and it’s hitting us healthcare workers hard. I might not be on the frontlines taking care of COVID patients on the floor, but I am working diligently every day to make sure those numbers decrease. I wish the community would work just as hard to protect themselves and us by simply following the rules and recommendations put in place.

Nurse C:

2020 was my first full year as a new LPN. To say the least, it was not at all what I was expecting.

I’ve witnessed multiple families have conversations with their loved ones in nursing homes about changing their code status and rewriting what their final wishes would be. Residents have BEGGED and pleaded to me that they are ready to go to Heaven more than ever because the world has turned upside down and truly what is the point, if they can’t see their loved ones?

If residents aren’t dying from COVID-19 itself, or COVID-related conditions, they are dying of loneliness.

My grandma back in Iowa has recently had to stay in the hospital for three days due to heart complications; I wasn’t allowed to see her. She has been all alone in her apartment for the past eight months and her life truly depends on family and quality time with loved ones.

I’ve seen a huge disconnect from her. All she has is technology and that has always been a struggle for her to figure out. Thankfully, family always popped in to show her how to work her iPad or fix her cell phone but now she has to figure it out on her own. She doesn’t sound the same on the phone; she’s lonely and would do just about anything to be sitting next to someone, drinking tea and NOT talking about the pandemic or politics.

It’s a lonely world for lots of us but when your last remaining years are filled with isolation and fear, it sure makes you question so many things. All I keep saying is, “It’s not fair.” To any generation. The price I would pay to be holding her hand again and having a cup of tea, talking about how crazy dark it is at 4 p.m, and then laughing because we say that every year.

During nursing school, my grandma would give me a kiss on each cheek and promise me that everything was going to be all right. What I would truly give to have those two kisses right now.

In the clinic, I have to disappointment families daily when we have a new rule now being implemented. Or watch parents yell back and forth when I have to tell them only one parent can be allowed in their kids’ appointment.

I’ve also been asking to cross-train in outpatient mental health due to rapid increase of new patients or increased frequency of visits by current patients.

At my one job, it’s almost “frowned upon” to get tested. It could almost feel threatening to get tested without at least three symptoms and the symptoms lasting longer than five days. Zero screening done.

My other job doesn’t require testing quite YET. Daily screening with vitals being taken and recorded. Zero staff with reported or positive tests nor residents. They have access to rapid testing, if needed. They have about three different “charts” to follow in case a staff member, resident, or a high-risk exposure happens.

It’s usually a daily changing situation and truly never know what you’re about to walk in to. Hospital employees get turned away from getting tested on a regular basis yet are the ones with firsthand exposure to all age groups.

I average about 24 med passes in eight hours and could point out and tell you exactly the medication and dose of each resident 100 times by heart. Since March, those medications have changed drastically. Extreme increase in anti-depressants and a lot of new anti-anxiety prescriptions.

We are tired. So tired.

Nurse D:

Excerpt:

It was a Friday afternoon when I got a text message from one of my management members saying that they went in to get tested due to having some mild flu symptoms and a free test was conducted in their area that particular day. Thinking nothing of it, I went on with my evening; it’s flu season, it probably is nothing.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

She tested positive. Because of the close work-relationship that management has in our facility while at work and privately, all of us had to go into quarantine and get tested that following Monday. Each of us got a different test: one had the saliva test, one got the mid-nasal, and one got the throat swab. Now the waiting began.

We were all convinced that we were positive due to the fact that we had just spent the last three days in close contact. We went out together to a meeting, spent lunch hours together, had a zoom meeting, and even went to purchase Christmas decorations for our facility.

I’m not going to lie, a lot of scenarios went through my head but my main concern was my family.

What if, after all these months of training and preparing, I brought it home to my family. What if my babies got sick? What about my husband? He has underlining health conditions and I could be the reason for him to get severely sick.

Believe me when I say that that night I said a very long prayer and didn’t sleep for a few nights until I finally got my test results . . . NEGATIVE . . . all three of us!!! YAHHH

Per CDC and MDH guidelines, because we were in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive person and we didn’t have any symptoms, we had to stay out for 14 days. I drove my daughter to my workplace, gave her my keys, and told her to get me the most important folders, files, calendars, and other necessities for me to keep doing my job remotely.

Now the mandatory testing for our residents and staff started:

We had a runny nose here and there, but again, it’s October and we just went from wearing t-shirts to having a 4-foot snow blizzard in one day. We are fine: after all, we had been following every single guideline for months and my girls were pros by now.

Oh boy, was I wrong again.

First round of testing and my care providers and residents tested positive one by one. Care providers had to stay home and positive residents had to go to full quarantine in their rooms. Two week notices started to get placed on my desk.

Care providers told me that they wouldn’t show up for their shift because they were afraid to bring it home. We were down to five care providers and three of them where high schoolers who only worked part-time.

Parents started pulling their children out of fear of them getting sick. We didn’t have enough care providers left to cover all our shifts, so the decision was made to pull management out of quarantine so that we could work the floor.

Head count: four management, two care providers, and only two people for the kitchen were left with about 20 COVID-positive residents.

The next 10 days were the hardest and longest days that I had to endure since my service time. I decided to pack a suitcase because I knew I wouldn’t be going home for quite a while.

A) It wasn’t logical to drive back and forth just for a few hours that I may get a break, and B) I didn’t want to take a chance of infecting my family.

We worked between 15 to 18 hours each day, trying to catch a quick snooze on blown-up air mattresses that we brought in and set up in our movie theater. We were eating a bunch of junk food while running up and down the hallway answering pages from residents who were running a temperature, had diarrhea, or were coughing so hard that they couldn’t catch their breath or were throwing up.

When I tell you that our Crocs didn’t have a profile left after these 10 days, I’m not over exaggerating. Around day #4, we noticed residents dropping in their O2. We normally would like to see a person’s O2 in the mid- to upper-90s if they don’t have underlying health conditions such as COPD.

We had residents complaining of shortness of breath left and right with an O2 in the mid 80s. We were running to get oxygen tanks and hook up our residents so they could receive some sort of comfort. Ambulances were called because our residents where laughing one minute and dropping in their vitals the next and begging us for air.

It was a nightmare and not the even the best training or PPE could ever prepare you for this. Ambulances brought our residents back due to their age and the underlining health conditions they had.

Plain and simple, the hospital needed beds for people who had a chance of recovery.

We went from being a healthy facility with 28 residents and 25 care providers to 25 residents testing positive, five of them getting put on hospice, and about eight bodies to work and keep the facility running, all within a few days.

If you think it couldn’t get any worse, think again . . . 

We lost four of our residents in a matter of three days!!!!

All of our kitchen staff had to go into quarantine due to a positive test and then we had to run it all with six people. Mind you, on a normal day we have three shifts running with approximately 10 care providers, three kitchen staff, with maintenance and management also in the building.

When we didn’t cover the floor we spend our time in the kitchen preparing soups/salads/hot dishes or sandwiches for our residents, while in the back of my mind I was thinking about my family and how much I missed them.

While all this was going on, we also had to figure out how to utilize the plans that the CDC and MDH had in place for when a facility has an outbreak. Needless to say, their plan looked better on paper then in reality.

You would have thought that when you are giving the recommended agencies a call, you would tell them what you needed and help will be on its way: be it temporary care providers or PPE supplies.

Oh boy, was I proven wrong again.

We had to fill out a form to receive a form that needed approval first to receive yet another form that then had to be forwarded for a signature to be posted for approval.

In other words: Have fun figuring it out while we tell you all the things that you may or may not be doing wrong and then on top of that, threatening you with a visit from state to look in to your facility and your policies to see where you failed.

It’s been a very long and exhausting experience and even though we are almost done with our infection period there is still no end in sight.

My heart is heavy for the residents and families we lost and I’m still checking anxiously on my residents every day to make sure nobody else passed away from this terrible virus. We are slowly having our care providers return to work and hopefully can return to a “normal” COVID-19 free future!  

To read Nurse D’s entire account, click here.

Nurse E:

I watched Governor Tim Walz’s press conference on Wednesday, November 18th and felt the emotions pour out of him as he spoke. The feelings of: compassion—that all Minnesotan lives matter; respect—understanding that everyone has their own perspectives and beliefs in regards to politics in general, and more specifically COVID-19; exhaustion—feeling defeated as Minnesotans continue to take a stance against the recommendations, no matter the avenues his team works to approach them from; and so many more.

I watched, knowing that I had known him on a personal level, and now in a respected elected position. I do not consistently stand on the same political side that Tim and his Democratic counterparts do, but in this moment of desperation and despair, it should not matter, and it does not for me. I watch him and feel his struggles and know he cares for each one of us Minnesotans alike, no matter their level of support for his position.

Following Tim Walz’s press conference, I saw varying responses within the individuals who are “friends” within social media, I saw individuals referring to Tim as “the dictator,” sharing feelings of having their rights taken away, as well as comments from individuals asking why additional clinics/hospitals weren’t being built and why we weren’t providing preventative care/supplements to individuals rather than restricting them.

I also saw many of my fellow healthcare workers and public servants sharing their adoration and support for the plans that have been put into place and encouraging one another to power through the next four weeks in order to assure we make it out on the other side.

While I am a firm believer in preventative medicine and the need to educate and empower individuals to take care of the personal health proactively, in the midst of a global pandemic, when our society is trying to survive and make it to the next day, the government is unable to direct funds toward these things.

Nurses are exhausted, they are putting in long shifts caring for individuals gasping for breath, trying to hold on for another day, in hopes that tomorrow will be better. Nurses are working extended shifts or additional overtime shifts to cover for their peers who unfortunately contracted COVID-19, have been exposed or have another ailment that takes them away from work for a shift.

Due to the staffing constraints and the additional needs within the hospitals, we are facing shortages of resources within the hospital walls, and that is not a political exaggeration to increase the community’s cooperation, this is a fact.

It is extremely difficult for me to understand how people can look at COVID-19 and make it a political battle at this time. As Minnesotans we know that the winter months are cold and flu season for us, even prior to COVID-19, mostly due to the decreased activity and outdoor time in addition to the increased hours indoors with exposure to one another’s germs. Unfortunately, the risks of illness have only magnified with the addition of COVID-19 this year.

As a nurse, it is my job to chart and document clinical data (truths) and refrain from including opinions, only observable data, describing it in understandable terms, and I have no reason to believe that Tim Walz, Jan Malcom and all members of the Minnesota Department of Health are doing anything but that. They are sharing information forward to the community to assure that we’re informed and subsequently educated, in order to assure we are making informed decisions in our daily life, including routine shopping outings, interactions with one another, and holiday celebrations.

I believe it is the best decision for all to follow the experts’ advice and refrain from gathering for annual Thanksgiving gatherings this year, in order to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 unknowingly to your family/friends.

I have witnessed a family gather for a celebration, with under 10 people, and three households, and unknowingly expose their vulnerable aging parents, who in turn tested positive for COVID-19 and continue to struggle with symptoms. The pain and frustration this unintended exposure to their parent’s causes is heartbreaking.

While I don’t work at the bedside with patients suffering from COVID-19, I feel for my fellow nurses and healthcare workers fighting this fight, let’s show them support by being proactive in our interactions with one another, refraining from holiday gatherings and wearing a face covering when running errands.

THANK YOU to all the nurses, doctors, and health care workers who face this virus and its grim effects every day and for sharing your poignant stories with all of us.

You are heroes to me and countless others.

Originally published on the author’s blog

So God made a nurse . . . and we are so grateful.

Melissa Neeb

I'm a Minnesota native and lover of nature, WW2 memoirs, rescue dogs, photography, and thrifting. My husband and two teenagers are the great loves of my life. I am passionate about advocating for addiction recovery, writing about parenting, life, faith, and everything in between.