DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — Every holiday season, frontline workers deal with long hours or missing out on time with loved ones. But this year, those sacrifices are a matter of life and death as COVID-19 cases are rising across the country.
Stephen Finley is one of those frontline workers who can’t stay home. He’s a paramedic, student nurse, and volunteer firefighter in east Texas.
“I spent a couple of days awake in the ICU and then couldn’t maintain my oxygen level anymore, so they put me into a coma,” said Stephen Finley, who survived COVID-19.
“Same week they had asked her to make a hard decision, they threw a Hail Mary pass and tried one more treatment that they had heard of,” said Finley.
Finley battled COVID-19 for 83 days in the ICU, 50 days in a medically induced coma. His wife, prepared to make an impossible choice but he miraculously recovered.
“I was awake and talking and facetiming with my family, so I went from death’s doorstep to awake and talking,” said Finley.
Finley now just grateful for a holiday with his wife and five kids.
In New York, nurses at Upstate University Hospital say part of their care now includes connecting patients with loved ones.
“Helping with phone calls and video chats with their families. I also like to write a little message on the white board, which is not what whiteboards are for. But I don’t care on thanksgiving, I’ll write Happy Thanksgiving and draw a bad turkey,” said Kayleigh Kelly, a New York nurse.
They’re feeling the same pain of missing family time, even when given the opportunity to go home.
Rachel Nolan is working Christmas, but had Thanksgiving off.
“I’m personally not seeing any of my family members. Unfortunately, that’s how it is. I do have high-risk members of my own,” said Rachael Nolan, New York nurse.
And for nurses at Odessa Regional Medical Center, they say the hardest part of the job is being honest with families.
“When you have a patient that wants to see their family, you have to be the one to go in them and explain the reasons why we can’t allow visitors up here,” said Christina Kulbaga, a Clinical Coordinator at the Odessa Regional Medical Center.
As their hospital hit capacity this month, employees are in desperate need of kindness from outsiders as they battle fatigue internally.
“Our employee morale is just down right now, everyone is really exhausted, their burnt out and the last thing that they want to see at the end of the day is these negative comments from the community members and so it’ been very hard for them,” said Madison Tate, Marketing Director, Odessa Regional Medical Center.