LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Those that work in the medical field have always been important, but the pandemic showed us just how important. During the early weeks of COVID-19, you'd often hear the term 'front-line hero' to describe nurses, doctors and paramedics.
If you've ever talked with a nurse, you'll likely hear that getting into such a selfless field is a calling, one that continues to resurface, no matter how many years go by.
"I started nursing school when I was 49 years old. I always wanted to be a nurse, however life took me a different direction," said Anne Dwyer who is a Registered Nurse at Mary and Elizabeth Hospital.
Dwyer had been a massage therapist for 20 years but wanted to be more involved in patient care.
"I said if I passed my entrance exam, I'll know it's meant to be" said Dwyer who graduated from Galen and started out as an orthopedic nurse in 2017 at Mary and Elizabeth.
That all changed in 2020.
"Once COVID hit, our floor closed down. Elective surgeries were postponed and ortho nurses became COVID nurses. COVID came onto our fourth floor," said Dwyer.
With one day to prepare, Dwyer volunteered to help those being admitted with a virus we still know little about. She said things were changing by the hour, "We'd have three rapid responses a day."
She worked 12 straight days in the beginning, watching as oxygen levels dropped. Some of the patients were asymptomatic and didn't know what was happening.
"They were going down quick and had no idea they were going down," she said.
Since March 1, UofL Health has admitted 606 COVID-19 patients and have seen 1,500. Mary and Elizabeth has had 186 patients admitted with a total of 310 treated, according to UofL Health.
"We just tried to be that extra person for them, hold their hand, feed them, baby them. Whatever they needed. Comfort was the most important thing. It's not that they were in pain, they were scared," said Dwyer.
Patients filled the floor as loved ones, sealed out for protection, leaned on those closest in proximity. "We would contact families through Zoom. Patients would literally try to reach out and touch their family members on the screen. It was very sad," said Dwyer.
There's no question about how real it is for those who have to see the virus in every patient, veiled only by a partition of PPE.
"I wish you could walk the halls with me. You'd see it differently," said Dwyer.
Dwyer has gone back to orthopedic care but said she's on-call to treat COVID-19 patients if the need increases again.