Young nurses in Florida share life in a COVID unit
Neither of us was ready for that. Not for a virus we knew so little about and we killed it so quickly.
Now imagine being a young, fresh graduate whose first job in healthcare is on the front lines of a global pandemic. Your turn, keep the infected patients alive.
“It still isn’t true,” said Nia Gande, a young nurse at Tampa General Hospital.
We caught up with Gand during her shift in a general medical unit that was recently turned over to serve COVID patients only.
With nearly two years on the job, Gund has spent more than half of her career in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Never in my nursing career did I expect to go through these changes and go through a pandemic,” said the University of South Florida nursing graduate.
Sierra, who asked us not to use her last name, is 28 and also has just over two years of professional nursing under her belt. Eighteen of these months were designated with additional protocols and additional layers of personal protective equipment.
Its intensive care unit was inundated with many patients with COVID, and the hospital recently turned it over to serve only COVID patients.
“I pray before I go into any room to care for these patients,” she said.
For these young nurses and their ilk, the past six weeks have been the heaviest losing since the pandemic began.
“Because we didn’t have to be here, it could have been prevented,” Gande said. “It’s hard when you put everything you have into it and you don’t get that support from the outside that makes it better,” Gand said, referring to the vast majority of critically ill patients they see who haven’t been vaccinated.
Most of their patients are not immunized and have some young, younger ones.
“They are scared. This is where we come in and hold their hand and say everything will be fine even though we can see where they are going,” Sierra explained.
Sierra had two patients struggling to survive all day the day we spoke to her in the ICU. One was only 19 years old and had underlying conditions.
The death of young nurses usually does not happen very early, quickly, and often. The pandemic has made death a natural for the new class of health care workers.
“Literally, you only see this patient go down in 12 hours. It’s crazy how quickly that happens,” Gande said.
For Sierra, seeing so many deaths left an imprint.
“It definitely made me more grateful for life,” she said, “thankful for every breath I take because someone could have missed them and I’ve seen them.”
“It’s definitely an invitation to do this profession, you have to think again about why you started. It helps you come back the next day,” Gande said when asked if she regretted entering this profession.
How she will remember her, Gande replied, “It was crazy, hard times and we did unimaginable things, and as a nurse, we had to stretch so much to save the sick. It was a crazy time for everyone.”