Carlos Perry assisted a man in his early 40s last summer while working at Tulane Medical Center at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He remembers watching as the man was told he’d have to be intubated due to his worsening condition from the virus. The man called his wife and said he’d talk to her again in two weeks.
Two weeks came and went, and the man passed away without ever getting to speak to his wife again. Perry, a nursing student, said this was just one of many tragic stories he witnessed during his work with ICU patients during the Delta variant surge, where patients dying from COVID-19 became younger and younger as the surge peaked.
“They would get admitted to the ICU and would be dead two days later. People were just dying a lot faster,” Perry said. “There were people that were my age that weren’t making it out of there.”
LSU School of Nursing is based in New Orleans, an early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. LSU nursing students, who frequently hold jobs as nurses and nurse technicians, have been on the frontlines of the pandemic from day one.
According to the New York Times as of Nov. 9, there are 215 people hospitalized in Louisiana due to COVID-19, down 32% in the past two weeks. There have been 994 COVID-related deaths in the city since the start of the pandemic.
In Christine Rider’s six years as an ICU nurse, nothing has compared to working through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She worked almost every day of the week in 12-hour shifts–and her days off were only spent catching up on classwork for nursing school and catching up on sleep.
“When it was really bad, you didn't cope with it. You didn't think about it, you just did it,” she said. “And then now that it's time to calm down, you have to retroactively think about what you did, and what you went through and try to come to peace with what has happened over the past year and a half. This year, I've had to do a lot of reflection.”
Rider attributed her ability to handle the recent surge and treat COVID-19 patients to LSU’s nursing program, where she said professors “highly stress evidence-based practice in every class.”
Benita Chatmon, assistant dean for clinical nursing education, said she is beyond proud of the work the nursing students have done in the midst of the pandemic.
“Our students are doing everything. They’re doing vaccines. They’re on the frontline,” Chatmon said. “But most importantly, our students were on the frontline when everybody was scared of what COVID was,” Chatmon said.
Chatmon said she was proud of students’ flexibility and resilience as the school adjusted to the pandemic, along with their impact on the community through vaccine administration, patient care and testing.
Through their experiences, Chatmon is confident students will graduate “ready to tackle what healthcare looks like now.”
Nursing senior Luke Daniels began working at the University Medical Center in New Orleans in fall 2020, where he completes basic tasks for patients like taking vitals. Soon after he began work, he witnessed one of his patients spend over a month in the hospital, much of it on a ventilator. He missed Thanksgiving with his family, but by Christmas Eve his condition was much improved.
“It was the first time that [he and his son] ever had gotten to hug each other and see each other since he'd been in the hospital,” Daniels said. “That was really sweet to me, getting to see him go out because I knew how long he'd been there.”
Daniels said that LSU prepared him for the challenge of working with COVID-19 patients. “My first two semesters, I had an amazing instructor who really prepared me for the foundation and just talking to patients,” said Daniels. “I think you can be an intellectual nurse, but like, if you're not carrying them, you know, I don't think it really matters.”
Daniels, Rider and Perry all emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as a means of mitigating another surge, and that their education has allowed them to have meaningful conversations with patients hesitant to receive the vaccine.
Daniels urged the public to have patience. “As long as we have patience, we can get through this. We’ll be out of this whole thing in the near future,” he said.
Vaccinated patients make up about 1.4% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in Louisiana.
Rider said talking to unvaccinated patients didn’t leave her with any resentment or anger toward them—mainly because she’s “too tired to be resentful”—but instead she feels sad that they are likely victims of misinformation who come to regret their decision.
“Sometimes with COVID, if you haven't had it, or don’t know someone that has, it all seems very remote,” said Rider. “I think it needs to be, ‘What can I do to help the stranger beside me?’ Because you never know if the stranger beside you at like Rouse’s is immunocompromised.”
“I can understand being skeptical. But then [they’re] getting [COVID-19] and thinking, ‘Oh crap, I should have gotten vaccinated.’”
“You cannot get someone's life back from COVID,” Rider emphasized.