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'Nobody dies alone.' Emergency room nurses share how COVID-19 pandemic impacts their day

Emergency room nurses say seeing patients recover from COVID-19 makes all the hard work worth it.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “Our rule is nobody dies alone," said Terry Foster, a registered nurse at Saint Elizabeth Healthcare. Foster said watching people die without their families has been one of the most heartbreaking realities of COVID-19.

“I’m going to sit there, I’m going to hold their hand, I’m going to pat their forehead, I’m going to be there with them," Foster told FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan.

He’s been an emergency room nurse for 43 years at Saint Elizabeth Healthcare. “I’ve never regretted one day of it Paula," he said.

But he said the last two months have been the hardest of his career. He’s treated more than 100 people for COVID-19.

“We wanted to be prepared for these patients but there was a lot we didn’t know about," he said.

He’s seen five people die from the virus.

“You’re trying to do 50 things at once with all of this guard on," Foster said.

He said he counts himself lucky to have always had enough protective equipment, like gloves, face shields, and masks. The challenge: Simply talking with his colleagues and those he cares for with his face covered.

“It’s very isolating," Foster explains.

Emergency room nurses told us seeing patients recover from COVID-19 makes all the hard work worth it.

This is the 300th COVID-19 patient leaving Methodist Hospital on May 7.

Methodist Hospital discharges 300th recovered COVID-19 patient

James Seekie was admitted to the hospital about two weeks ago with COVID-19. He became very sick, spending time in intensive care. This week though, James finally recovered and was discharged. His nurses escorted him from the hospital as he took in a wave of cheers and well wishes from a joyful crowd of team members.

Posted by IU Health on Thursday, May 7, 2020

“It’s rewarding… We know that people are surviving and getting back to
their life which is awesome," said Ron Kraus, a clinical nurse specialist at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital.

But for many hospitals, Patti Howard with the Emergency Nurses Association said they may never recover.

“Because people really did stay home as we asked them to do and only came if they had to," said Howard, 2019 president of the Emergency Nurses Association.

At University of Kentucky Healthcare where she works, she said their daily number of patients was cut in about half to 150 patients a day, which means their revenue has been slashed too.

“There have been areas around the country and in Kentucky that have absolutely furloughed a lot of staff," Howard said.

And that’s created a physical, mental and emotional toll on nurses.

We all have a breaking point and we have to watch that for each other... I’m like 'hey, how are you, what can I do for you?'," said Foster, describing how he tries to support his colleagues during an especially difficult time.

A study published in late March in the medical journal JAMA found healthcare workers who treated COVID-19 patients in China often reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Among those with the most acute symptoms: nurses.

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