Earlier this year, we asked: If you’re a health care worker, what have you been seeing on the job?
Considering what the country -- and the world -- has experienced with the pandemic over the past couple years, we genuinely wondered what was happening in hospitals and other medical facilities.
Our viewers and readers provided some really telling answers.
We heard from more than 750 of you; nurses, doctors, medical assistants, respiratory therapists, physicians assistants, laboratory employees, nursing home workers and more.
(And if you’re in health care and you’d like to weigh in, it’s not too late! Scroll down -- we have the form at the bottom of this article).
A lot of the responses fell into similar themes, so we organized them that way. Some entries were edited for grammar and/or brevity.
To get a better idea of what has been happening behind the scenes, here are those responses. We didn’t collect names, so each answer is anonymous.
The question was, “What’s something you wish everyone knew?”
‘COVID is real’
“That this virus is real. They (might not) die from COVID. They will die from a blood clot, stroke (or) heart attack. That is the result of the virus. I’ve seen people lose their limbs from amputations caused by issues with circulation. I’ve seen pregnant women and their unborn babies die. GET VACCINATED. People are afraid of the vaccine. But they want the treatment. STOP. Get vaccinated.”
“COVID is real. The same science that developed the vaccination is the same science that is used for cancer treatment, blood pressure medication, insulin, and hundreds of other meds that anti-vaxers take on a daily basis.”
“I wish the people that think COVID is a made up or blown out of proportion would come to the hospital and see how much suffering there is - young and old.”
“COVID is REAL. People are DYING. Maybe you aren’t personally affected, but by not being vaccinated or following state/local mandates, you may be contributing to the high number of deaths.”
‘We’re sacrificing our own health and wellness’
“I wish that people understood the stress and sacrifice the medical staff goes through daily to take care of everyone else while sacrificing their own health.”
“I swabbed 25 COVID-positive people yesterday. I have to go home to my family. I’m in constant contact with sick people, so cut me a break. I’ve been more exposed than you have.”
“Nursing isn’t a 9-5 job. You bring it home. Your family suffers a lot.”
‘Leave the ER for actual emergencies’
“Learn self-care and care for your minor conditions at home, with advice from your primary (care doctor). Mild COVID can be cared for without a trip to the doctor. Keep healthy. Eat healthy, exercise, rest, get your vaccines, and do preventative care. There is NO space or staff right now. But, please! Do come when you have an emergency.”
“Don’t come to the hospital if it’s not an emergency, and be patient with the staff.”
“(People) shouldn’t come to the ER just to get a test because they think they were exposed but aren’t having symptoms. Leave the ER and the ambulances for true emergencies.”
‘Get the vaccine’
“I wish they understood the real science behind vaccines, and would just get vaccinated. They aren’t 100%, and you may still get sick. However, the illness will perhaps be less critical. Why play Russian Roulette?”
“Vaccines are effective, and your doctors aren’t being paid by Big Pharma or anyone else to push them. … We want this over as much as anyone.”
“Pregnant women (especially) should get vaccinated. It is very scary to see what COVID can do to them during pregnancy, or the complications it causes.”
“Vaccinated and unvaccinated are still getting COVID, but the unvaccinated are coming in much sicker.”
‘Kindness makes a world of difference’
“Please be kind. We want to help. We are frustrated, too.”
“Our intentions are always pure. We are in health care because we are natural caregivers. We understand this is a difficult time for everyone, but a sincere thank you goes a long way to fill our emotional buckets.”
“Just be nice to anyone working in health care, because we are exhausted, short staffed, and many are struggling emotionally.”
“We are tired, and when someone is grateful, it means a lot.”
‘We need your help’
“Nurses need help. We need community support. We need government help to create safe ratios. We need more nurses. It’s hard. If you love a nurse, tell them, check on them, love them extra, help them take care of themselves, because we are so busy taking care of others that we forget about ourselves.”
“That we went into this profession to help people. Most of us genuinely care about the people we serve. … This virus is real. Vaccines and masks work. We need everyone to work together.”
“Just because you test negative on Thursday does not mean you are still negative on Monday. You may have been too soon to show a positive.”
“The vaccine saves lives. No matter how you look at numbers, what you hear from Facebook, Twitter, your friends, etc. – hands down, the vaccine is the best tool we have at this time to save lives. It is endlessly frustrating and sad to keep losing patients to a preventable disease. Get vaxxed and boosted. Quit arguing about it and just do it.”
‘The reality of the situation’
“I wish people could follow us for a day, and really see what we deal with as COVID nurses.”
“How bad it really is -- we are exhausted, short staffed and trying our best. We are only human. And yes, we go home, shower, cry and only get a nap before coming back to work.”
“We ask anyone who thinks COVID isn’t ‘that bad’ to come volunteer and help us. Come see how bad it is. Come talk to the nurses, paramedics and doctors. Come talk to the patients who are hospitalized who didn’t get vaccinated, and ask them if it’s real.”
“For them to to see the reality. Walk in our shoes. Hold on to the hand of a dying patient.”
‘The burnout is real’
“We try our best everyday, but we are only one person. We have to take more patients than we’re normally allowed or supposed to take, and it’s just never enough. We still get verbally abused by patients who truly do not understand that there’s one nurse to five or six patients, which is already unsafe, but we really, really are trying. This just makes the burnout even worse.”
“We are overworked, exhausted, and doing our best under the circumstances. I wish they knew how I don’t take lunch breaks many days, or go to the bathroom for hours on end, or stay two to three hours past when I’m supposed to because I didn’t have time to chart.”
“I’m mentally exhausted. My coworkers take their masks off, in the office, even though we are supposed to keep them on unless eating. Multiple coworkers have gotten sick. … I no longer want to be around my friends that I know are unvaccinated. It feels like a slap to the face.”
“Compassion fatigue is real. It’s hard to keep caring.”
“I see cancer patients who haven’t gotten vaccinated for various reasons even though they are high risk and there isn’t really a medical contra-indication for them to get the vaccine. The people who come here from small-town Texas are most likely to be unvaccinated. It’s really upsetting. I tried to talk with one patient and he wouldn’t even talk to me about what his hang-up about getting vaccinated was -- he had actually be hospitalized with COVID two months earlier. It’s clear they won’t even listen to what I have to say. It’s like some days I’m fighting a losing battle trying to convince people to get vaccinated. I also wish people would get their kids vaccinated to mitigate the spread in schools right now. I wish people would stop fighting the mask mandates. We know masks work, and not wearing them is what got us to this time of the unmitigated spread of Omicron.”
“It is infuriating to speak with patients who are rude and demand immediate attention/intervention when they have basically done everything imaginable to ensure they contract COVID-19 and put their community at risk. I ask patients, ‘Have you received the COVID-19 vaccine?’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you had contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19?’ ‘Yes, many.’ ‘Do you have any underlying medical conditions?’ ‘I smoke, I don’t take my prescribed medications and I don’t follow my doctor’s advice.’ I’m sorry – what do you want me to help you with? Oh! You want a medication that is in short supply and you want to step ahead of everyone else who has been conscientious and responsible in taking precautions and protecting themselves and their community? Sure, let me roll out the red carpet for you. SMH.”
‘Respect the profession’
“Medicine isn’t Burger King. You can’t ‘have it your way.’ We’re highly trained, we spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn to save your life -- don’t come in and quote a Google search. It doesn’t motivate us. Yelling and cursing at us doesn’t help. It’s actually a felony to threaten us. We understand you’re scared; let us do our jobs. Fighting, refusing what we order or advise, insulting us -- that just hurts you.”
“I wish everyone knew that nurses are so under appreciated, and as much as we loved nursing when we signed up for this profession, we did not sign up to get belittled and treated harshly by patients. Staying at the hospital is not a hotel — we are there to keep you alive and safe. We have much more to do than just passing medications, we have to chart/document everything, and continually take vitals. This isn’t because we don’t want you to rest, but it’s to make sure you aren’t declining.”
‘Industry conditions are less than ideal’
“We just want to be appreciated and valued for our hard work. Pizza and signs out in front of the hospital are not what we are asking for. We need better equipment, more protection, companies to stop being cheap and hire the right (number) of people and better pay.”
“Just in general how much this job takes out of you as a nurse. How many family fights you break up, even physical (ones). How many people die alone, with just you. How many people you invest in that die. How hard it is to live a normal and happy life outside of work. How little we are paid. How often we are guilted to come work on our days off.”
“That the problems (nurses are) having sadly aren’t new, and my only hope is that the pandemic exposes the issues and allows change.”
“Be prepared that many more nurses will be leaving their jobs and there will not be enough nurses to care for our communities. We are tired of being forced to have unsafe patient ratios, no monetary compensation for our extra duties, and unappreciative patients.”
“Don’t come to the hospital expecting a pleasant stay. Everyone there is working as hard as they can and they will get to you, just often not in an ideal time frame. There’s no room for us to worry about perfect ‘customer experience’ these days.”
“How challenging it is working as a nurse – providing appropriate, safe care to complex patients with a massive nursing shortage. (Especially when) some of the patients’ and families’ expectations are not realistic and they express their frustrations on nursing. Which is bizarre, being as we, nurses, are the patients’ advocate.”
And this particularly poignant response
“That we are complicated humans, with complicated feelings about those we care for. I can look at a sick COVID patient and see my own mother, or my grandfather in them; I can talk to their family on the phone and my heart breaks for them as if they were my own. I’m also furious at them for being the cause of their own suffering, for ignoring our advice and refusing to protect themselves with a vaccine – but then coming into the hospital and asking for our care then, while still refusing to admit that they were wrong. And I want people to know about the cruel math we have to be aware of, and accept responsibility for their part in that. We have patients on the vent in the ICU who have been there for WEEKS. We know when we intubate someone for COVID, that the odds of them ever leaving the hospital alive again are extremely low. But we also know that the odds of them lingering on the ventilator for weeks – running up a hospital bill for their family, exhausting the over-extended ICU provider teams, tying up necessary resources and keeping them away from others with a better chance of survival – is very high.
“The truth is, the family of the patient who has been in the ICU for 30 days, who still doesn’t believe he had COVID, who still claim he is a fighter and will make it through this, and that they will care for him in whatever state he survives … they have subjected him to 30 days of torture, they have committed him to a death filled with suffering (because he is NOT going to survive), and as they have been doing this to him, they have also been causing delays in other patients getting the care they need -- people waiting in the ER unable to breathe, because we don’t have a room upstairs with a ventilator open for them. They think we want to let their loved one die because we don’t care. We want to let him die because we do care desperately – because nobody deserves to suffer the way he has, and because other people need the care he is getting. They are the ones who do not care, because they are not willing to accept the burden of reality, and make the decisions that would end his suffering.”
Are you a health care professional and you’d like to weigh in with your own response? There’s still time: