‘Our own badge of courage’: Mid-South nurses balance stress of working with COVID-19

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Medical professionals willingly expose themselves to the COVID-19 pandemic every day, and it’s taking a toll on another group of front line workers.

They’re left with thankless days, sleepless nights, exhaustion, risk and fear, but many Mid-South nurses sign up exactly for this.

“I mean, I didn’t know it was going to be to this extent, but this I think is something we all signed up for, and this is what we do,” said Brett Walker, nurse manager at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Walker has been a nurse for seven years.

“I don’t think any of us has ever seen anything like this,” he said.

Walker and his colleagues always expected the work, but they couldn’t anticipate the uncertainty.

“You know, initially, everyone really was stressed out, and there was a lot of fear and not knowing; the fear of the unknown,” Walker said. “We were all scared, but I think as we learn more, and the anxiety has kind of gone down for my team, and we kind of wear it on our sleeve like our own badge of courage.”

It’s a badge that’s increasingly difficult to earn.

Nurses everywhere are caring for critically ill patients with infectious diseases, which raises the stress level of protecting yourself and more importantly your family.

“So I change in the garage, and I go directly to the shower before I’m able to do anything,” Walker said. “That way I can feel comfortable going home and seeing my family. They’re scared when we leave, and then they’re scared when we come home, so you know, not only do we have to take care of our patients, but we have to go back home and take care of our families, too.”

For many, that stress has changed the way they’re doing their job.

“I’m a nurse practitioner in an emergency department, and every person who walks through the door, we consider potentially infectious,” said Carla Kirkland, president of the Tennessee Nurses Association. “Any person who comes in with fever and respiratory problems gets a mask immediately and put in a room as quickly as possible.”

If anxiety is sky-high, so too is the resolve and commitment. So they soldier on and nervously await the surge.

“Our capacity to take care of these patients here is exceedingly high, and it’s fortunate we haven’t had to use it right yet,” Walker said. “In the in the event we have to have an influx of patients, we’re prepared to take care of it.”

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