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An ER Nurse Isolates, And Her Family Balances Pride And Fear

Creative Commons

The spreading COVID-19 disease is injecting stress and uncertainty into the lives of nurses and other health care workers on the frontlines.

Their families, too, can feel the pressure that comes with the developing pandemic, leaving them to wonder and worry about their loved ones who spend days and nights in hospitals treating patients struggling to fight the novel coronavirus. For some, the weeks ahead will be marked by separation and anxiety.

“There’s no end in sight,” said Pat, whose daughter, Katie, is a nurse at a local emergency room. “That’s the real bad thing.”

Like many nurses and health care workers right now, Katie doesn’t want her last name shared because she’s not authorized to talk to the media. But, she’s worked in a Louisville-area emergency room for six years, and she wants to talk about what’s happening now, as Kentucky has recorded more than 1,300 cases statewide, nearly 500 of them in Jefferson County. 

Normally, people come seeking treatment for heart attacks, strokes, stomach pain and other issues common for an emergency room. Now, though, Katie suspects nearly half of everyone who comes in for help does so because of COVID-19. Some struggle to breathe.

“We’re kind of assuming everyone has COVID,” she said. “So, we’re gearing up as if they are COVID positive.”

Before COVID-19, patients often had family by their side. Due to newly implemented no-visitor policies at hospitals, they’re alone.

“It just saddens me,” Katie said. “It’s a scary time for everyone … it feels like an eerie calm before the storm.”

When she leaves the hospital, she unwinds with exercise and by spending time with her dog. Mostly, though, she’s alone. Since she is on the front line, working with very sick patients, she’s serious about isolation. But because of that, she doesn’t know when she’ll see her friends again -- or her family.

“It’s a little disheartening,” she said. “But I’m taking this seriously and I don’t want to spread it to anyone.”

She doesn’t know when the storm will hit, but Katie said she feels confident that her hospital will be ready. Katie said the support from the community during the pandemic is overwhelming -- she and her colleagues are being called heroes.

Her dad, Pat, is admittedly a bit scared for his only daughter. Katie’s brother also works in healthcare. 

So, Pat and his wife - both who are in their 60’s - are trying to stay healthy and live something of a life in between the news and texts and calls with their kids. 

But he worries.

“All of us can turn on TV and you see these doctors and nurses that are just trying to get through the day in extremely, if not impossible circumstances,” he said. “That’s what scares me about Katie’s situation.”

In their family, Pat is the problem solver — the go-to-guy to fix a car or take care of the dog when Katie can’t.

Right now, he can’t do any of that. And he doesn’t know when he will again.

“There’s no way to plan, there’s no way to have that sense of hope and optimism,” he said.

So, everyday, he watches the governor’s briefings and listens for some sign that the end is nearing, that the curve is flattening. 

The sooner it does, the sooner Pat gets to see his daughter — the hero.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.