VCU health workers at ICU describe “heart pain” as an increase in COVID-19 cases

In a video released Monday, doctors and nurses describe the burden of an epidemic that has been breaking records for more than eight months since it began.


As coronavirus cases multiply before Thanksgiving, Virginia Commonwealth University health workers present the fight against the pandemic behind the scenes.

In a five-minute video released Monday as part of VCU’s public service campaign, doctors and nurses describe the burden of an epidemic that has been breaking records for more than eight months since it began.

“It just breaks my heart that some of these people can die alone in their room,” said Joy Wolf, a registered nurse in the university’s COVID-19 care department in downtown Richmond. “My biggest fear is that I would hate being the one who spreads it to all the people I love.”

The number of cases in November rose to new heights in Virginia. The promising decline in the number of patients treated in the state intensive care unit was reversed during the summer, with levels of hospitalizations not seen since the initial wave of the coronavirus last spring.

Virginia on Monday set a record for daily COVID-19 cases and reported more than 3,200 new cases to the Virginia Department of Health.

Wolf and VCU Health staff describe deep heart anxiety, loneliness, and fatigue among patients and health professionals alike. With a limited visit for security reasons, families turn to phone calls or video chats to keep in touch with loved ones – even at the last minute.

“I’m used to practicing in the intensive care unit with the patient’s family by the bed, sitting in a chair and talking to them about what’s going on with their loved ones,” Dr. Lisa Brath said. “I call them on the phone, we make FaceTimes out of the room when we’re broadcasting bad news – it’s heartbreaking.”

The video depicts nurses wrapped in face shields, masks, gloves, hair nets and shoe covers that move through glum corridors next to door monitors and ensure that all workers wear and dispose of proper protective equipment.

“I talked to my team about how sad I would be if I was in the hospital for a month, and that month happened to be the holiday season and I had to miss hanging the decorations with my husband or family members,” she said. Jade Jones, ICC Health ICU nurse struggling with tears. “So of course we’re going to buy decorations (for the patients) to see if they want to decorate their room.”

The campaign comes at a time when experts fear that holiday travel across the country could carry the virus and deepen the crisis this winter. About one million Americans packed into planes and airports over the weekend, despite giving official advice to stay in place. Thousands flock to Virginia, Maryland and DC test sites for screening before visiting friends and family at the end of the weekend.

Brath, who serves as VCU Health’s director of respiratory care, asked the Virginia people carefully and responsibly.

“We need the community to be a member of our team,” Brath said. “There are a lot of families who will have empty chairs at the table during the holiday season. We cannot do this without much help. Wear a mask.

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