Critical care nurses: COVID-19's first surge has prepared us for this current one

Posted at 1:16 PM, Nov 19, 2020

In many ways, we have come a long way since March when the pandemic first began, but in other ways, we have not.

Infections and hospitalizations around the country from COVID-19 are rising quickly, as the United States just surpassed 250,000 deaths from COVID-19. The country is also setting records for the number of positive coronavirus cases. It has forced states to consider similar shutdown measures to the ones we saw in spring.

Michigan, Washington state, Oregon, and New Mexico are mostly closed, as states like Colorado have recently announced more closures coming this weekend, including moving restaurants to take-out and delivery only.

“It has been very busy [in the ICU] and it has really, as you mentioned, gone up in the last two weeks,” said Dr. Julia Limes of UCHealth in Colorado.

Dr. Limes has been spending the last few weeks working out logistics for the ICU at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center.

“We have started deploying people from other parts in the hospital to come and help us on both the COVID floors and in the COVID ICU,” said Dr. Limes.

“We already surpassed the numbers from the first surge, so it’s like what’s next?” added Maddie Smith, a critical care nurse in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU.

Smith has worked in the hospital’s COVID-19 ICU since March. She says the fear, stress, and unpredictability of this current surge might have consumed her once more if it was not for the lessons learned in the COVID-19 unit during the spring months.

“We just know how to treat them better, and we know how to intervene with interventions, so that’s been really helpful,” said Smith.

In the spring, hospitals were experimenting with different drugs to treat serious COVID-19 complications. Since then, the FDA has approved Remdesivir as a treatment option for certain patients 12 and older, based on findings that it helped some patients recover faster.

Smith says doctors and nurses are now more familiar with the arc of how a patient might respond to symptoms so they can manage bed space and ventilator use better.

All this comes as both Moderna and Pfizer announced this week they have both developed vaccines with 95 percent effectiveness.

“[Caring for patients] is easier and it’s smoother than it was in the spring,” said Dr. Limes.

Not only has patient care gained more clarity, but so too has self-care on the part of first responders, according to Smith.

“It was hard,” she said. “I think the biggest part that got to all of us is these people don’t have family to be with. That first surge, it all hit us pretty hard because of the sadness that happened down here. We just kind of lean on each other to get through it.”

How far this current wave will go is unknown, but by drawing from the past, these first responders say they will be ready to deal with it no matter what is thrown their way.

“We just have a better sense of the trajectory, and that is hugely valuable as we go into this next surge,” said Dr. Limes.