Two St. Johnsbury night nurses on mourning loss here, and abroad, from COVID-19
COVID numbers have been on the rise for months in St. Johnsbury. As they work in the local hospital, two night nurses mourn losses in their communities, both here and abroad.
Every day this week, VPR is airing stories from frontline healthcare workers at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury. Today independent producer Erica Heilman talks with Sabrina Johnson-Harry and Kathryn Vineyard, who are night nurses on the medical surgical floor. Sabrina is Jamaican and Kathryn’s from the Philippines.
The hospital is full. Both Sabrina and Kathryn look exhausted. I asked Sabrina what she does when her COVID patients give up hope.
Sabrina: “The eyes look lost, you know, and then you, the nurse, would be saying, ‘Hey, fight a little longer. Give it another day. Give it a few more moments and see.’”
Erica: “What does it cost you when they give up hope?”
Sabrina: “We cry. We cry together as a group, especially night staff, you know. We have a lot of moments where we feel overwhelmed.”
"We cry. We cry together as a group, especially night staff, you know. We have a lot of moments where we feel overwhelmed.”
Erica: “Have you had moments since this surge has begun where you thought, ‘I'm done.’”
Kathryn: “Oh, well. Well, my mom just passed away a month … yeah, a month ago. Oct. 17. Due to COVID.”
Erica: “Oh, I'm sorry.”
Kathryn: “Yeah, I try not to cry. It's hard because it's not here. She's in the Philippines. You know, my families are over there, and me here, you know, taking care of the patients and, you know, feeling like, you know, these people … could get the vaccine and not be, you know … and then not need to be admitted like this.
“I can't just sit around. Unlike here where you have the government to, like, support the people that can't afford health care. There is just like, there is a process. And when you go to a five-bed hospital, which my mom was, she was admitted to the private [hospital], you got to take your own money to pay for the bills.”
Erica: “And was that part of the reason you were, you needed to work so hard?”
Kathryn: “Yeah, I needed to work and I even like took extra time ... I don't even care if I work late, you know, four days, five days straight. All I was thinking is that, my mom will get better.
“She was in the ICU. The ICU has this big glass. You can't go inside. Only the nurses and doctor and my family can go visit her and see through the glass. And they would do a flashlight so she would notice that they were there outside, and she would wave at them. She would wave at them. They sent me this video, and it was hard watching her. She was gasping. Having difficulty of breathing. She didn't make it. COVID actually ruined her body, her heart and her other organs … it gives up, you know.”
“I feel like people are just like, you know, they're very lucky to have this access. You know, the government will pay for hospitalization. The government will pay for the vaccination. And there's plenty of vaccines, you know, in the United States. In the Philippines, where we don't have that luxury. We don't have the luxury of having, you know, you can get this vaccine immediately. You have to like, fall in line.”
"... there's plenty of vaccines, you know, in the United States. In the Philippines, where we don't have that luxury. We don't have the luxury of having, you know, you can get this vaccine immediately. You have to like, fall in line.”
Erica: “Do you have people here who are holding you?”
Kathryn: “Yeah, she… [Sabrina] that night she was here. She was here that night. She immediately hugged me when she found that my mom passed away. That was like midnight.”
Erica: “You were at work together when you learned?”
Kathryn: “Yeah. When I learned. I was busy. I did have two COVID patients at that time. One patient was from the nursing home, and she was going to just give up. I have to go inside her room to turn her every two hours so she don't get bedsores.
“My mom, when we found out … her bedsore was really worse. I mean, I don't blame the nurses back home, because I know how hard for them too. Like I said, the hospital there is like, overflowing of patients, so they don't have that luxury to go in and out to the patients’ room more often. And my mom needed that repositioning because of her condition.”
Erica: “And at this time, you're doing that.”
Kathryn: “I am doing that, yeah, I’m doing that. I make sure to turn my patients, because that's what they needed. Because they’re already battling for COVID. I don't want them to have another infection that will arise and, you know, make them more vulnerable. Make them more fragile.”
Erica: “How important are nurses who know what you are going through?”
Sabrina: “We're a family away from home. Especially Kathryn and I, we’re from a different country. We know the lack of resources in our countries. People are privileged here. People are so privilege. For us, we know what it is lacking in our health system, back in our country.
“And when we're here and we see the privilege of people, and they're still being so resistive and, you know? Keep your mask on, get your COVID vaccine, you know. We want to live, and we are tired of seeing so many sick people.”