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Overworked nurses face new wave of COVID-19 patients

Gini Cherry is a nurse in the surgical trauma ICU at UNC Hospital
UNC Health
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Gini Cherry is a nurse in the surgical trauma ICU at UNC Hospital

Hospitals across North Carolina have more than 5,000 patients with COVID-19. That's nearly triple just since Christmas Day. It's also well above highs set during the first two waves of the pandemic. In addition, health care workers have left the profession, and are getting sick themselves, leaving those in the hospital overworked. Gini Cherry is a nurse in the surgical trauma ICU at UNC Hospital. She describes the toll it's taking on her and her colleagues. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How is the omicron surge different than previous surges in COVID-19 patients?

"We're hurting right now for staff, which I feel like didn't really happen before."

And this means you are being asked to pick up more shifts?

"I know that it's hard to understand, but when you work 12-hour shifts, it's really exhausting. If you get to sit down for your 30-minute lunch break, and you get the whole 30 minutes, and it's uninterrupted, that's a real treat."

How does all this extra stress and work affect you outside of work?

"I have two kids, a 10- and a 5-year old. And they miss me very much. And every night, when I'm about to start my shift at work, I tell them, 'Mommy's gonna be at work tomorrow,' just to prepare them. And I get the tears and the 'Nos' because I'm gone before they wake up and I come back and they're already in bed because they have school or there are events that they have to be at. So it's a long time to be away from your family."

What's it like inside the hospital when it's that busy?

"The idea of an open bed, it's a dream. That just doesn't happen anymore. And so if you have a motor vehicle crash patient that comes in, it's, you know, okay, well, who can we get out of here?"

Is there something you wish people understood better about what you do?

"You put so much of yourself into these patients and so much of your time, your emotional health, your mental health. All of it is taking a toll because you're putting so much of yourself into taking care of these patients and fighting for them. And so I wish that people out in the world understood that. Because that is extremely frustrating and exhausting."

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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