Fighting on the Frontline: Memphis healthcare workers share their experience during pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Since day one of the pandemic, healthcare workers have been risking their own lives to protect ours.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Shelby County, some healthcare workers say it’s beat them down emotionally and mentally.

“Everyone who was in our COVID unit came together as volunteers. There wasn’t anyone in our unit initially who was assigned there. Everyone raised their hands and said they wanted to go work in there,” said Scott Anderst, Regional One Nurse Manager, and COVID-19 cohort.

Anderst said, in the beginning, they didn’t have any COVID-19 patients, so they studied and prepared for a virus they didn’t know much about but knew would be in their hospital soon.

PHOTOS: Fighting on the Frontline: Memphis healthcare workers share their experience during pandemic

“You had to teach nurses to be nurses again, doctors to be doctors again,” said Anderst. “Everything you did you were thinking it through, had to go step by step. What is the best thing to do?”

He said the floor started filling up by spring when restrictions were still being developed.

“Having to make that decision, can we let a family member up here to look through the glass, you know to be as close as they could, and we made that happen for that family, but at the time we weren’t sure if that was the right thing to do, but it was what was right for that patient and that family,” said Anderst.

But now those calls are even harder to make as dying patients are isolated from their loved ones.

“We brought in iPads, all different things to try to connect you to the outside world along the way,” said Anderst. “I’ve been bedside for a few of those moments, and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone to have to be so alone.”

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Across town at Baptist Memorial Women’s Hospital, labor and delivery nurse Lauren Faulkner said none of her patients have died, but some have been critical.

She said it’s been tough seeing the virus take a toll on patients.

“Scary, because it takes that one patient for you to be like this, this could be you. This could be your friend. This could be your family member,” said Faulkner.

She said early CDC guidelines recommended separating newborns from COVID positive moms.

“They understood for the most part, and I think it’s because they wanted what was best for their baby,” said Faulkner.

She said CDC guidance now allows COVID-positive mothers to be with their babies. It’s one weight lifted off their shoulders, as another one presses down on them.

“It seems like it’s never going to end, and at this point, I don’t know how we’re going to get it to end because people don’t listen,” said Faulkner. “But at the same time, people have to work. They have to keep going with their lives. They have to keep making a living to support their families, so I understand that, too, but we also have to contain this virus.”

Dr. Jennifer Snow is the medical director at Baptist Memorial Hospital’s pediatric ICU.

FOX13 first talked with Snow in April when she would sleep at the hospital during her on-call shifts. She said it’s a decision she made to be with her patients and keep her own family safe from COVID-19.

It’s a sacrifice she still makes today.

“My kids, on a routine basis, kind of ask me when I walk in the door, ‘Is it safe to hug you, mom?’ Which as a mom is kind of heartbreaking and difficult to hear,” said Dr. Snow.

Dr. Snow said her eight and 10-year-old understand she has a job to do but she said there are moments when she underestimates the impact of the pandemic on them.

“My son, one night I was putting him to bed, and out of the blue he asked me, and you know this is very hard to say, he asked me, you know, what would happen to his sister and him if you and/or dad died over COVID? And that hit me very hard,” said Snow. “But it made me realize kids, my own kids, are internalizing what they’re hearing and what they’re seeing.”

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Snow said the pediatric unit is treating more young adults with COVID-19 to help lighten the load for the main hospital. But she said this virus is taking a serious toll on her teammates.

“Everyone is still doing their best. But after months and months, what’s the toll going to be on the healthcare workforce?” asked Snow. “We’re already seeing that with mental exhaustion, burnout, trauma, seeing everything we see, especially my adult colleagues is traumatic, and how is that going to impact us as physicians, as caregivers?”

Despite the long hours, the tough calls and the difficult moments, these healthcare workers said they still have hope.

“We’re always helping each other. Even when it’s rough we know we’re going to get through it. Just take it one patient at a time,” said Faulkner.

All these workers say the new COVID-19 vaccine is welcome news. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, but it isn’t a silver bullet.

These healthcare heroes say if you want to thank them, do what works right now like wearing a mask and social distancing.

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