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“The whole hospital is an ICU.”

A clinician in scrubs sits with his hands clasped and head bent.
By Shayne Perez

Philadelphia, PA
United States

I'm here deployed in New York City, at the epicenter of COVID-19. When I was assigned at the hospital, I was told I’d be in the intensive care unit (ICU). I’m not an ICU nurse, and I relayed that, but I was told, “oh, it doesn't matter, the whole hospital is an ICU.”

There was not one area of the hospital that was free of the virus, and we were the help they had been begging for.

The company I work for recruited 1000+ nurses from all over the country to come and aid New York City in the fight against this relentless illness. We came in strong and ended up weak, some of us to our knees. Most of us were unable to hack it.

We worked endless hours for 21 days straight: 16-hour days that never seemed to end, running on nothing but fumes, while people coded all around us and there was nothing we could do about it. Ventilators were sometimes not even cleaned before being used on the next patient.

The emergency department was the most horrid of all. There were people piled upon people. Some sat in a circle hovered around one ventilator with six attachments because there simply weren't enough to go around. Patients lay dead for hours unnoticed because there weren’t enough staff to tend to the dying. There was a man who became so hypoxic he carved out his eye.

The things we saw and experienced are enough to give nightmares. We were so exhausted that one wrong word could put us into tears.

The story is endless, but one thing I can say is that the patients were so grateful. They never became agitated and always said please and thank you and some cried and died in my arms. I will never forget COVID-19 NYC.

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