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'We Don't Want To See You In The Hospital': Valleywise Nurse Explains Emotional Toll Of Caring For COVID-19 Patients

Published: Monday, January 25, 2021 - 1:10pm
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LAUREN GILGER: As we continue to watch the vaccine rollout and continued spread of COVID-19 here in Arizona, nurses from major health care organizations across the Valley are joining together to make their voices heard today. They are some of the people most impacted by the pandemic in our state as they care for COVID patients daily and often are the ones there with them when they die. I spoke with Laura Stallings more about her experience as a nurse at Valleywise Health in Phoenix earlier this morning. She works in dialysis for COVID patients and says it has been incredibly difficult.

LAURA STALLINGS: So for us, dialysis, we have been hit really, really hard because a lot of all the patients that have COVID are experiencing what we call AKI — that is Acute Kidney Injury. And these patients are not dialysis patients, but we treat them for the AKI just like we treat our ESRD, or End-of-Stage Renal Disease patients. So our staff has been hit really, really hard because we are working extra long hours. Personally, it's taking a toll on my family. I'm not able to see them as often as I wanted to. Emotionally speaking, it's also very, very, very difficult for us seeing our patients dying. Let me give you an example. A grandpa died the same day as his grandchild. So it's very difficult because these guys are dying alone. Well, not alone — we're, they're holding their hands and stuff like that. But you don't have your family around you.

GILGER: Yeah, this is, this disease seems so much, you know, worse than others in some, in that way, right? Because there's an isolation factor. You have to be sort of the family, the friends, the support for these folks.

STALLINGS: Yeah. And you don't see the smile. We're all wearing respirators and stuff like that. So it's very difficult for us. We're used to death, but not this kind of death.

GILGER: Yeah. So we're still seeing very high numbers of new COVID cases pop up in the state right now and across the country for that matter. There's definitely, we know, a measure of pandemic fatigue in the community. People are just sick of having to live this way. What do you say to those folks when you talk to them in your life and your family, your friends? You know, how do you reassure them that this is worth doing?

STALLINGS: Yeah, it's, it's very difficult. Let me tell you something. We have a record here in Arizona and not the best record of the world. I wish it was something different, but right now, one in 1,000 Americans has died of COVID. And Arizona's still one of the hardest hit states and has one of the highest rates of infection in the country. So I'm begging people, please, if you can stay home, please keep your social distance and please wear a mask, avoid large crowds. We don't need to go outside right now. Please. We don't want to see you in the hospital. We want to see you healthy. We want to see your family healthy. We want you to get vaccinated — that's the most important thing. Vaccine will give us herd immunity. Waccine will help us through this whole pandemic. The president just promised that within the first 100 days of his presidency, he's going to have 100 million people vaccinated. So that's very important. And as soon as the vaccine is available for your group, if you're eligible, please make an appointment.

GILGER: What do you say to those folks who, who can't avoid every risky situation, people who have to work on the front lines, have to take care of their families, kids who have to be in school because their parents can't have them at home, things like that? How do you, how do you hope they will be able to continue throughout this and stay safe?

STALLINGS: Yeah, I will give you an example. My daughter, who's eight years old, she's been going to school since August nonstop. Their school is very well prepared with social distancing, with mask wearing, with washing hands. So that's exactly what people need to do. I mean, we all need to go to work sometimes. Just follow the common rules: Mask, social distance, wash your hands and avoid large crowds as much as possible. At this moment, if you are eligible, like I said before, for the vaccine, please take your vaccine. Don't be afraid of it. I know we have side effects. I'm already being, been vaccinated. I had my two doses already. My arm was sore the first time. The second time was a little bit harder, but it's totally worth it. Totally worth it.

GILGER: Final question for you then, Laura. I want to ask you about the patients that you're seeing, the people that you're trying to help. Is there a particular one who sort of stands out to you in your mind, whether it's somebody you lost or somebody you were able to save?

STALLINGS: Yeah. So unfortunately, we have lost a couple of our outpatient dialysis patients. My patients are really — how do I put this — they're really sick. So if they get hit with COVID, it's going to be really, really bad. So one of my patients who was 46 years old, had COVID. She didn't want it to get tested. And I begged her to get tested because she was having a lot of symptoms. At the end, she got tested. Of course, she got positive. She ended up in the hospital for a couple of days. She survived the COVID experience. She came to me and she apologized that she was not treating me very well that day, she was not feeling well. And she hugged me. I know the social distance didn't work there, but the hug meant a lot to me. Very unfortunately, this COVID has also very bad side effects in your body and your system. So she ended up dying from complications a month after she was discharged from the hospital. So till today I recall her. I recall that hug she gave me and that thank you for helping me. And it's sad in every way you can see it, but I'm going to miss her for sure.

GILGER: That is Laura Stallings. She is a nurse manager at Valleywise Health here in Phoenix, who is working with [COVID-19] patients in dialysis right now. Laura, thank you so much for coming on The Show to tell us about your experience in this.

STALLINGS: Thank you. Stay safe.

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