Frontline workers speak about the pandemics’ physical and emotional toll

Coronavirus

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — Voices from the frontline are filled with exhaustion, emotion, and frustration as we enter the tenth month of this global coronavirus pandemic.

Many frontline workers continue fighting the battle against COVID-19, even while dealing with aftereffects of the virus themselves, including a nurse at Cedars Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital.

“I’ve still got flashback symptoms; the fatigue would hit out of nowhere, just super tired. Headaches would come out of nowhere ­— intense headaches,” Nurse Joni Stokx described her COVID-19 symptoms.

Stokx is among the army of frontline health care workers who’ve spent the bulk of this year at war against the coronavirus.

“I did a tour in Iraq when I was in the military and this feels comparable. You feel alone a lot and you feel tired and honestly depressed sometimes, but you push through,” Stokx said.

The weight of fighting the fight is emotional for those in the battle full-time.

“It’s been such a challenge to take care of these patients and take care of yourself at the same time. But it’s been such an honor to be the person at the bedside and give updates to family members,” said Melissa Rue, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital.

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In a short break from the frontline Wednesday, Dr. Oren Friedman, a pulmonary specialist, told NewsNation of the challenge in caring for the sickest COVID-19 patients while still recovering from coronavirus.

“I’m still having symptoms months later after having the virus,” Friedman said. “It’s mostly fatigue, shortness of breath, deconditioning. That doesn’t necessarily make it easy to run up and downstairs at the hospital from ICU to ICU. It does make it challenging; it really does, it adds to the stress of the job.”

In Fresno, California, ICUs are also at capacity, and there is growing concern over available ventilators.

“There’s going to come a time if we overwhelm the system that we’re going to have to make a decision. Even though both people need the ventilator, only one person’s going to get that ventilator,” said Patrick MacMillan, who works at the University of California San Francisco Fresno School of Medicine.

Life and death situations are happening every hour in California which is expected to surpass two million COVID-19 cases right around Christmas. More than half a million cases have been reported since Thanksgiving.

Workers said public complacency about the pandemic adds to the stress.

“It can be very, very demoralizing. The word is moral distress. It feels as if your work doesn’t mean anything and the people that you’ve watched die don’t mean anything. I think that is the hardest thing to take,” said Dr. Isabel Pedraza, the ICU director of Central-Sinai Medical Center.

To perhaps sway dangerous behavior, Dr. Friedman draws a parallel to evacuation orders during wildfires. 

“When people choose not to evacuate from those areas and they call 911 for help and the rescue workers have to risk their own lives to rescue them out of those areas, that’s a little bit akin to not wearing your mask, not washing your hands, with the exception that the things that we’re asking of people, as hard as they are, they’re actually easier than having to evacuate from your home,” Friedman explained.

According to the California Department of Public Health, nearly 65,000 cases of COVID-19 have been among health care workers and 244 have died.

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