November 30, 2021

“Everybody is running on empty” Inside Intensive Care Units, battling yet another wave of the virus

Life outside a hospital looks relatively normal these days. Inside, it’s different.

COLORADO, USA — Life outside a hospital in Colorado looks relatively normal these days. Inside, it’s different.

Katie Stencel goes to work every day to treat the sickest patients as a nurse at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, a Banner Health Hospital. For the past year and a half, most of the people in her ICU have had COVID-19. 

“Everybody is running on empty,” said Stencel. “It’s worse than 2020 because in 2021 we’re depleted. We’re empty. We don’t have any more room to give.”

During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, Katie wrote a letter to the people she treated who didn’t make it. “I have seen things over these months that I will never be able to take back,” she wrote. 

This year, she hoped the vaccine would bring an end to COVID-19 patients coming through her doors.

“Emotionally I think a lot of us have had to step back and get some counseling, take some time off, take care of ourselves for a little while before we have to do this all over again,” said Stencel. “I think all of us as ICU nurses have gotten to that point of despair where you just feel like, what else can we do? We take on that responsibility and feel like we’re not doing enough.”

After a calm start to the summer, the hospital is filling up again with COVID-19 patients. Gone with this wave of the virus are the howls at sunset, the car parades outside the hospital windows, and the support of the public calling them healthcare heroes everyday. 

“It feels frustrating because we feel left behind,” said Stencel. “We still show up everyday. It doesn’t matter if people are clapping for us or telling us thank you. We’re going to do our jobs because that’s what we do. But at the same time it’s almost like we’re on our own now.”

Stencel said Banner Health and the North Colorado Medical Center have supported the nurses throughout the pandemic and offered services to help employees cope with the trauma they see everyday. She believes nurses across the country are struggling. 

Stencel said the vast majority of COVID-19 patients she treats now are not vaccinated. She said nearly all that survive regret not having gotten the vaccine.

“COVID is hard and COVID has taken a lot of lives, but we are still going to do what we do every day to prevent that,” said Stencel. 

Stencel said she sees a lot younger patients coming into her ICU, often not from COVID-19 but from complications because of COVID-19. Right now, she said her ICU is just about full.

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