Melissa’s Story

Melissa is a registered nurse at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. She posted her story to her personal Facebook account on December 30, 2020 and graciously gave us permission to share it here.

This morning is the first time, in several months, that I felt hopeful that there is an end to this pandemic. I’ve been a nurse for over 10 years now, and an ICU nurse for the past 5 years. I thought I had seen a lot in those past 10 years. However, in the past 2 months, I have seen and experienced more heartbreak, tragedy, emotional trauma and death than I have over the last 10 years combined. 

When the pandemic first started, Cambria County was “lucky.” Most of our patients beat COVID, and we all celebrated each time a COVID patient got discharged out of the hospital.

Fast forward to the surge following Thanksgiving… we have seen what we thought we escaped in the initial surge of the pandemic. I now have seen what fellow healthcare providers in big cities described, that I too, was slightly skeptical about. 

It’s much easier to think that COVID doesn’t really exist or isn’t that serious when you don’t see first hand what it does to the human body. It’s more than just a respiratory virus. It destroys so many other organs along the way. 

There is more than just a “positive nasal swab” that determines COVID. We have other ways of knowing a patient has COVID. COVID wreaks havoc on the body’s ability to form clots when needed or to not clot. Patients’ coagulation panels on their blood work show this. These abnormalities have caused patients to have strokes, blood clots in the lungs, and legs. I have seen patients literally have to have a leg amputated because COVID caused clotting in legs leaving the leg to have no circulation. 

Those who haven’t witnessed this first hand may argue that it would be an easy fix to prevent this by giving blood thinners. This, too, becomes difficult because patients then start bleeding too much due to coagulation abnormalities COVID creates. 

I have seen people with completely healthy, normal, functioning kidneys, end up requiring continuous dialysis and then, if they survive, require long term hemodialysis because of the effects COVID has which leads to multi- system organ failure. 

I have seen patients with NO cardiac history have heart attacks directly caused by COVID and clotting issues it causes. 

I have seen what COVID and ARDS look like on CT scan. I have seen patients who never had a lung or breathing problem a day in their life turn purple the second they don’t have their 60 liters of 100% heated high flow oxygen in both of their nares. 

I have seen too many 50-70 year olds have this happen to them.

I have seen the look of pure fear in the eyes of patients as I have told them they will probably need to be intubated and put on the ventilator. I have personally seen those patients call or FaceTime their husbands, wives or children to tell them they are going to be placed on the ventilator and then say their “goodbyes” and “I love yous” in case they never wake up again. And many times, they don’t wake up again. 

I have seen multiple family members in the ICU at the same time, on ventilators. I have talked to those patients’ families on the phone and heard their heartbreak, just asking if we can at least save one of them. 

I worry that some of you may think that all of the above is what life was like in the ICU before COVID. I worry some of you may think that these are just things that happen to patients who are chronically sick or have “pre-existing conditions.” 

I will tell you that we had patients this sick on occasion and it was rare to have 2-3 patients this sick before COVID at the same time. Now, all of our patients are this sick, all of the time. 

I have seen patients get this sick without any past medical history. 

The majority of these people with “pre-existing conditions” were not dying from these conditions and were being managed by lifestyle and medications prior to getting COVID. All of the people that are getting this sick and dying were not already so sick that they were probably going to die this year from those conditions prior to COVID.

These patients are someone’s mom, dad, grandparent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend… 

I chose to get vaccinated today for all of the above reasons. I chose to get vaccinated for all of the patients I have talked to one day and the next day were on a ventilator. I chose to get vaccinated because I can’t bear to think of all of the emotional trauma this is causing fellow healthcare providers, myself included. 

COVID is ugly. What it does to a body is downright disgusting. 

Each and every one of you has the right to make a decision to get vaccinated or not to when it becomes available to you. I urge you to include reaching out to and speaking to someone you know that has worked on the frontlines of this pandemic, as part of your independent research. 

Here’s to a hopeful beginning to an end. We have to start somewhere.

-Melissa D., Registered Nurse, Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center