As COVID-19 hospitalizes more than ever, nurses at UW Hospital ask public to make a change

NOTE: This is part three of a three part series highlighting COVID-19 units at UW Hospital. Part one aired Thursday and part two aired Friday

MADISON, Wis. – Frontline healthcare workers at UW Hospital in Madison are taking care of more Coronavirus patients than ever before. Now, they’re worried what could come over the course of the next few months.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. These patients are very, very, very sick,” said Nurse Assistant Carey Elwood, who has worked in medicine for two decades.

She says one of her biggest fears is bringing the virus home from work to her family.

“I’m exhausted after I get off of work,” she said.

Last week, UW Hospital effectively doubled the spaced being used to take care of the most critically ill COVID-19 patients. As winter comes, healthcare workers like Elwood say they’re unsure of what could come next.

“If we’re going to get any more patients than we already have, what’s the next step? Where are we going to get the staff to staff that?”

Other nurses, like Andrea Romer, say while they’re learning how to better treat COVID patients over time, the process can be grueling for everyone involved.

“We weren’t prepared for how lonely and scared patients would be when they can’t have their loved ones visit,” she said.

Romer, who has worked for years to take care of trauma patients, says COVID is unlike any other illness when it comes to unpredictability.

“We can’t always guide the patient in what to expect, the family in what to expect. We just kind of have to take it day by day,” she said. “We just don’t see trends. That’s where our comfort lies, right? When we can see a trend and know a patient is getting better. But we don’t always know.”

Now, she says she’s unsure of the long term mental toll caring for COVID patients will have on her.

“As far as what we’ll experience in the future because of this emotionally, I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions there,” she said.

Both nurses say it’s frustrating to watch others outside the hospital disregard the severity of the virus.

“It’s crazy how they want to have football games and have big rallies and all this kind of stuff, when we’re struggling,” Elwood said. “It seems like nobody cares.”

“We are a little fatigued from the last seven months,” Romer said. “But it is even more fatiguing to leave here and know that some people don’t think that it’s real. This is real. A lot of us haven’t seen our parents. We know we have to distance ourselves from our family. We’re not planning our holiday traditions normally.”

Romer and Elwood both say by using PPE like masks, the public can slow the spread of Coronavirus.

“When I have to go out for groceries, I see people walking without their masks on. It makes me very angry and upset because I come in, and see what happens,” Elwood said. “”I don’t know how to get it through people’s heads that masks do work.”

“When we ask people to use more PPE in the community, we really do mean that from a place of ‘We’re all in this together’,” Romer said.  “We’re all experiencing this as humans together. The more they can do for us, the more we can do for them.”