KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The problem is for Becky Williams is that it’s a daunting cycle with a lot of weeping.
“I’ve cried after tough shifts. I’ve cried after talking to family members sometimes,” said Williams, a nurse in the University of Kansas Medical Center's COVID-19 intensive-care unit. “The virus was pretty mysterious for us the first couple of months, and it really is mysterious now.”
The hospital’s surgical unit was converted into the COVID ICU in March, and Williams has been there every step of the way.
“It’s kind of strange because our patients are here on our unit for at least two weeks most of the time," Williams said. "They’re pretty sick. I treat them all like they’re my family. I treat every single patient like it was my dad, or my grandma or anyone in between.”
And she does that for multiple reasons.
“Hearing them cry. Knowing they can’t be there with their family," she said. "That breaks me down too.”
Every day, she’s decked out in personal-protective equipment from head to toe. Sometimes she’s one of the few people a patient will see in a day.
Many are allowed only one personal visit per day, if at all. Other patients have to catch up with loved ones via video chat. And as Williams is learning, not everyone makes it out of the hospital.
“We had a patient who just came in a couple of weeks ago. When I saw him come up, my heart broke because I was so scared for him," she said. "I would go by his room every day just to say, 'Hi,' and tell him I was thinking of him, and that we all care for him so much.
"Every single nurse on my unit just adored him. And fought like hell for him, and it wasn’t enough. And when I learned he had died; I broke down in tears.”
Then come the questions she and her colleagues begin to ask themselves.
“You just ask yourself, gosh what did we miss? What could we have done differently?" Williams said. "And a lot of times, there’s no answer to that, and that’s probably the toughest part.”
These questions linger as Williams and other health leaders expect a second, possibly third wave.
In addition to all the safety precautions, she said she urges everyone to focus not just on the death rate, but those who survive COVID-19, and the long-term effects.
“This ravages your body and it continues to ravage your body for sometimes months on end," Williams said, "and most likely years. We’ve had patients who were able to walk around and just be very independent prior to this, and now they are in a nursing home for life.”