BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — “It’s just horrible. It’s horrible and unless you see it, you really don’t know. It’s unbelievable. You can’t describe the suffering,” said Ashley Menefee, registered respiratory therapist.
Healthcare workers describe the heartbreak of losing so many people to COVID-19, especially during the surge that came from the Delta variant.
“The way these people are passing away, it’s nothing like we’ve ever seen. When you are suffocating despite a ventilator, it’s pretty heart-wrenching to watch yourself, but then to watch these young children who’ve lost their parents to this,” said Wendy Ledlow, pulmonary critical care nurse practitioner.
Compounding the pain from seeing otherwise healthy people die from a virus are the bonds the hospital staff forms with the family members of the patients. Highly trained specialists find themselves feeling helpless and in despair.
Dr. Ashley Coleman is a board-certified family physician who works as a hospitalist. He said the hardest part of the pandemic has been, “sort of the sense of not really having much to offer therapeutic wise. The best analogy I think we’ve heard that’s been used to describe this pandemic is that we’re flying the plane as we build it. That we’re sort of learning as we go. The virus is new, the disease is new.”
Hospital workers have also faced angry family members who blamed them or accused them of withholding a cure. Doctors, nurses and therapists are also frustrated by the number of people who refuse to get vaccinated against the virus.
Dr. Wendy Davidson, a pulmonologist admits that she’s angry. “I feel like public health is sort of a two-way street. We count on the public to do their part. They count on us to do our part. We feel let down by a significant percentage of the population not upholding their end and then they have a lot of anger at us.”
Ashley Simpson, a licensed professional therapist, specializes in treating healthcare professionals. She is concerned about the psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain these frontline workers are trying to manage while fighting to keep young healthy patients alive and then helplessly watching them die.
“They’re experiencing trauma in the here and now, but when this is all over, there’s gonna be a majority of healthcare professionals that are gonna experience some form of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and we’re going to have to deal with that,” Simpson said.
Simpson would like to see hospitals take a more active role in helping doctors and nurses get the mental health they need onsite.
“They are practically in a war zone, like a “M*A*S*H” unit in the hospitals,” Simpson said.
She also encourages the public to show compassion and appreciation for frontline workers — something as simple and tangible as a handwritten thank you note.
Dr. Davidson says the best way to help healthcare workers during the pandemic is to get vaccinated, “Help us, help you.”