Coronavirus: Nurse in anguished pep talk photo gives insight into health care battle on virus front lines

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'I am, to be honest, scared. I have broken down, several times'

World | The Independent

A 12-year nursing veteran and chief nursing officer at a hospital in Chicago, who was captured in an anguished photograph comforting a colleague, has given a stark account of the fight against the virus from the front lines.

The nurse in the photo, Capri Reese, has shared her experiences of working in Roseland Community Hospital, which has seen an overwhelming surge in patients over the last six weeks as the pandemic hit the US.

“I see patients, treat patients, respond to codes, rapid response, intubate, order tests, write prescriptions,” Ms Reese said in an interview with Chicago Sun Times.

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“All of those things, and I’m also covering for the CNO — the chief nursing officer.”

Ms Reese described how she faced five code blue alarms during a 12-hour shift on Tuesday, a medical term for when a patient’s heart stops beating, alongside two rapid responses and three deaths.

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Six weeks ago the hospital saw its first case of coronavirus and since then Ms Reese said that “pandemonium” in the department has unfolded.

A total of 52,918 people have been confirmed to have the novel coronavirus in the state and 2,355 patients have died as a result of the virus as of Friday.

“It isn’t some virus overseas. It’s home; it’s hitting home. It became so real,” Ms Reese told the newspaper.

Nurse practitioner Capri Reese talks to a patient while a doctor administers an IV (AP)

She explained the struggle to find employees to cover shifts, explaining how workers are battling exhaustion, stress, other health issues such as ordinary flu and even the coronavirus itself.

“All of a sudden we’re down five staff in one day,” she said. “People who don’t usually call off are calling off.”

The extreme circumstances are causing tension and conflict to arise between the staff on shifts according to the senior nurse.

In one instance, two nurses clashed over whether a patient should be restrained into wearing a sealed face mask, ending in swearing and a walkout.

Ms Reese takes a minute to herself in an elevator after an 80-year-old man suffering from Covid-19 died at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago (AP)

“The nursing staff is under enormous stress,” Ms Reese said.

On one occasion a nurse had to hold a mobile phone to a patient’s ear so a daughter could say goodbye to her dying mother.

Both the nurse and later Ms Reese broke into tears over the incident, but both women’s attention was quickly by another emergency, unable even to talk to each other about the painful moment.

After working a 12-hour shift, the nurse goes back to her own family, a 15-year-old daughter and Ms Reese’s 18-year-old younger brother.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I am, to be honest, scared. I have broken down, several times. But if you know me, I’m a ‘There’s-no-crying-in-baseball’ kind of person. I have to keep a strong face in front of my family.”

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