SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes and interruptions to the lives of millions across the United States.
Among those affected include business owners suffering from lost profits, tenants facing eviction and unable to pay rent, and of course, those who have felt the ultimate pain of losing a loved one.
But there is perhaps no group more attuned to the massive impact that COVID-19 has had on our world than those doctors, nurses and other medical providers who have been battling it daily for nearly two years.
KELOLAND’s Dan Santella spoke with just a few of these heroes of the frontline, gathering their stories and giving us but a glimpse at the stress, fear and turmoil they have been living in since the pandemic reached our state.
We share their stories in the attached video player.
“It’s been very stressful,” said Dr. Anthony Hericks, a pulmonary intensivist at Avera. “It’s my job, I signed up to do it, I went to school, I took the training that I took because I like what I do, so getting up every day, it’s not hard. It’s work, it’s an honor, it’s a privilege to take care of my patients, but when I see the volume of patients that we have to take care of, the hours of time that we have to put in during a day, some would say, well that’s the job you signed up for, but it’s been never-ending now for 18 plus months, and at some point, you have to step back and say, how do I protect myself, how do I protect my loved ones, how I do I try to match that time between quality of life and home and work life, and that’s been very difficult, because we’ve essentially lived COVID now for the last 18 months.”
Hericks, aside from being a pulmonologist, is also the Director of Critical Care at Avera McKennan Hospital. He says the stress of the job currently leads to some complicated feelings. “When the question comes again, ‘hey we need some help,’ there’s a hesitancy to have to go through that again, because I think there’ll be a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder after this is all over,” he said.
Kelsi Lindquist, just 24-years-old, is a Registered Nurse in the Avera McKennan ICU. Similar to Hericks, she also has had to process a lot of emotion throughout the pandemic, balancing the negative feelings with the reason she’s there in the first place.
“It’s been hard, you can say. Like yeah — stressful — emotionally tiring, but I like waking up every day and coming here, I love working at Avera,” she said.
Sometimes the difficult moments come on strong. Matt Peterson has been a Registered Nurse on Sanford’s pulmonary unit for 12 years. When COVID-19 peaked in the region, he was strongly affected. “I struggled to sleep at that time. There was times when it was a very sad day. I saw some really tough things and dealt with a lot of tough things, and that was just me — that’s the whole entire hospital, not just nurses, not just doctors. We saw it all.”
This type of struggle is widespread. “Burnout is a thing. Burnout is a problem with healthcare providers, it is such a high-risk profession,” said Dr. Ashley VanDyke, a family medicine physician with Avera Medical Group. “We haven’t had a break from it. This is something that we just have been dealing with at an exhausting level for 20 months, and I think one of the difficult things with that is that as health care workers we’re feeling this disconnect with what some of the public feels as well.”
Avera’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kevin Post hopes that despite the burnout and the stress, his employees feel valued. “I just would want our frontline health care workers to know how much they’re appreciated — how much we are aware of what’s still going on at the front lines. I think many times it can seem as if the pandemic is over to some in the public, but we know it isn’t, and we know they’re working hard every day to not just treat COVID patients, but all other the range of illnesses that we care for.”