[Kristen McLaury, a nurse and unit manager at Methodist Hospital The Woodlands] treated one of the hospital’s first COVID patients and hasn’t stopped since. She now runs the respiratory unit, where she and her nurses have watched otherwise healthy young people gasping for breath. They’ve put countless people on oxygen, or taken them off life-support. They’ve had to comfort grieving families, and facilitate video calls so no one had to die alone.
She’s risked her own life on the frontlines for nearly two years, and now, watching these hospital beds fill up again, she just feels defeated. In Montgomery County, a conservative, wealthy suburban county northwest of Houston, only 53 percent of its more than 600,000 residents are vaccinated, which is among the lowest rates for Texas counties with populations exceeding 500,000. Less than 16 percent of residents have received a booster shot.
“I work 60 hours a week and I don’t see my child, I don’t see my husband, so that I can come and care for you while you yell at me because you’re upset that you have a disease that I told you how to prevent in the first place,” McLaury said.
As the unit manager, it’s McLaury’s job to keep morale up among the other nurses, a herculean task right now. Like every hospital across the country, they’re facing a nursing shortage, an increase in employee infections and a potentially terminal case of staff burnout.
As the omicron variant surges, Texas is on track to soon surpass its previous COVID hospitalization record, set in January 2021. Then, at least, there was the hope of vaccines on the horizon. Now, nurses like McLaury don’t see much hope at all.
From behind her Houston Astros mask and face shield, she begins to cry.
“It’s real, and maybe it might not be you [in the hospital], but it might be somebody else,” she said. “That compassion, I think, is just gone. The world has become so selfish.”
“Patients stay in the lobby for my entire shift,” said Meredith Moore, an emergency room nurse. “12 hours. It’s frustrating. It’s hard for them…and they get angry. It’s justified. But who receives that anger? Me.”
Moore has been a nurse for nine years and joined the emergency department here since soon after the hospital opened in 2017. She’s young and energetic, with expressive eyes that communicate exactly what she’s thinking — even behind a mask.
Before the pandemic, Moore loved the fast-paced environment and the feeling of helping people who really needed it. She was especially good at controlling her emotions, a requisite for this job.
“In the ER, you have a patient die on you and you have to go into your next room, and you have to act like nothing is wrong,” she said. “That has gotten more difficult as this has gone on.”
Last week, for the first time, she broke down and cried in the emergency room.
“I had five ambulances that had to have a bed…I had a patient that was circling the drain…I don’t have a nurse to take care of that patient,” she said. “That was the first time in two years I really felt helpless, because if one thing falls, if one person starts coding, it’s all over. It all goes up in flames.”
“I don’t think that people [know] unless you’re on this side,” she said. “I tell my family all the time. I’m glad you don’t know. But that’s a heavy burden to carry.”
The article started with a focus on one of the patients at Methodist Hospital The Woodlands, some unvaccinated dude who didn’t believe in the science of vaccines but was more than happy to trust the science of hospitals. I think we’ve heard enough from people like that. The rest is about the nurses and their experiences, and we need to be more aware of what they’re going through. Go read it.