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'This Didn't Have To Be The Case:' One ICU Nurse's Story Of Idaho's COVID-19 Surge

Ashley Brown, an ICU nurse at St. Luke's Meridian, poses inside the hospital in PPE, including a gown, gloves, and face hood and a mask.
Courtesy of Ashley Brown
Ashley Brown is an ICU nurse at St. Luke's Meridian Medical Center

As record numbers of COVID-19 patients — most of them unvaccinated — show up for treatment in Idaho hospitals, it’s often nurses and doctors who bear the brunt of the emotional toll.

Ashley Brown is a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center. After a couple of her shifts last week, she recorded her thoughts for us.

Editor's Note: We highly recommend listening to the audio version of this story. Press the play button above to listen.

Thursday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m.

That was a busy day. This morning, when I walked in, we had a COVID patient in every single room on our 14-bed unit.

You may be doing okay before you come into the unit. You know, I had meditated this morning. I had gone on a long walk. I was feeling good.

The last time I was in there were nine or 10 patients. And now we're up to 14. You just immediately feel this weight because you have this knowledge that this is really not normal — to have all rooms with the same diagnosis. And the majority of those rooms are patients who are on ventilators because they cannot breathe.

I spent the first 30 minutes just trying to gather myself because I immediately felt really anxious and very sad.

 Ashley Brown, a nurse at St. Luke's Meridian, sits on a sofa in front of a lamp. She's laughing and looking down.
Courtesy of Ashley Brown

So, 14 COVID patients. One of them died today. I was not taking care of that patient. I was taking care of two of the other patients on the floor, one of whom is actually the youngest patient that I've taken care of so far. They're in their 30s and they have kids. I think that's been one of the things that has been new and different this time around is that it's a younger population, and they have young kids and it just sits with you differently because you know that there are young children who aren't going to grow up, potentially, with a parent.

And granted, I think in this case, we don't know what the outcome is going to be, but she did not do well today. We tried to flip her on her back to see if she would breathe okay on her back, and it was immediately evident that she was not breathing well and we had to flip her back over on her stomach. Then having to communicate that to the family, you know, is hard. Just knowing that they want to hear good news and not being able to give it to them — that's hard.

Friday, Sept. 3, 8:30 a.m.

Not much has changed overnight. A lot of us keep saying it's like deja vu. Same patients, haven't changed much. We just do it again.

I've been thinking a lot about our health care team — just how grateful I am for them. It's just really nice to have people who have seen what you've seen and are frustrated, like the way that you're frustrated or, you know, you cried yesterday and they cried today.

Friday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m.

Today we had, I think, 10 COVID [patients] because yesterday two died. I intubated this gal a couple of days ago, I think it was Tuesday, and she died today.

When I say intubated, I mean that we put that tube down so that the patient can be on a ventilator. All of the patients I do that to and I'm one of the last people they talk to, they always sat with me a little bit more.

I can think of faces and names of people. You know, this one in room three, this one in room four, room six. And there are multiple people in each of those rooms that you remember that have passed on.

There's just a part of me that just like wants to scream and be like, but this didn't have to be the case. All of the trauma that happens from getting this disease and being one of the unlucky ones that gets sick enough to end up in the ICU and pass away. It just seems so unnecessary. And it's hard not to be angry about that.

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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