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Healthcare workers see hope, despair on the front lines of COVID-19

Mayo Clinic Health Systems employees on Tuesday got the opportunity to give people an idea of what they are going through during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four employees from southeast Minnesota and Wisconsin Mayo sites described some of what they are going through in treating those with COVID-19 during a time when so many hospitals are struggling under the surge of cases.

The employees talked about the everyday stresses they are experiencing while on duty and what they are also experiencing away from the hospitals.

One overarching feeling is that of being overwhelmed by the amount of cases at its worst point.

“Everyone’s overwhelmed at this point,” said Desirae Cogswell, RRT, LRT, a respiratory therapist in the Medical Intensive Care Unit in Rochester. “We are trying to take care of ourselves and our coworkers the best we can, but yes, it’s overwhelming.”

“We’re doing the best we can to keep up,” she added.

It’s a worry that has been stretched throughout the continuing crisis.

“At the beginning, especially when there were a lot of unknowns, my personal anxiety about infection was very high,” said Matthew Torres, a Mayo Clinic Ambulance paramedic. “I still worry about my own well-being and my family’s wellbeing.”

All four participants, which also included Traci Kokke, RN, an infectious disease nurse based in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Amy Spitzner, RN, CCRN, a critical care nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit in Rochester, talked about the stresses brought on by the pandemic.

This is especially taxing when they see all ranges of a patient’s time in the hospital, whether they become very sick and even pass away.

“The stress and difficulty we deal with is every day,” Spitzner said. “When you get to work, you’re immediately on your toes.”

Despite the science and the pressures on healthcare workers from increased caseloads, there are still those that believe that COVID-19 is either a hoax or not as bad as it could be. It was a unanimous feeling that those views can be hurtful and deflating.

“It’s tough to hear when someone tells you what you’re doing isn’t really happening and the people you are taking care of aren’t sick or in danger,” Torres said. “These people are really sick”

At the same time, these frontline workers aren’t giving up.

“What I say is ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m still going to be here to take care of you if you get the virus,’” Kokke said.