University of Virginia medical intensive care unit nurse Miriam Karunakaran said she never thought she would have found herself fighting a pandemic. She said the experience has been “absolutely humbling.”

This is a common sentiment among nurses and doctors I have interviewed — astonishment at one’s positioning at the center of the fight and gratitude to be a part of it.

“When I go home, and I hear about all the COVID-19 things on the news … if I wasn’t a hospital worker, it would be somewhat almost unrelatable,” Karunakaran said. “I think that it’s difficult to truly understand what’s going on. But, walking into the hospital … It’s kind of hazy walking in there and just seeing how critically ill these patients are. It’s surreal to see just how sick they actually are, and it’s hard I think to understand what exactly is going on, unless you are there seeing it firsthand.”

For Karunakaran, the other members of the MICU staff have provided a lot of support, as they understand what she is going through. 

“It’s hard to exactly confide in your family and friends when they’re not there seeing it … firsthand, so having that team of nurses with me going through the same thing just has been essential,” she said.

She said the community at large has been supportive as well, providing local restaurant gift cards to nurses. And there have been some “new faces” in the MICU, she said — nurses who have come from different units to assist the MICU nurses battling the coronavirus crisis.

“We’ve been helping train and kind of orient them to the ICU so they can be an extra set of hands to us,” Karunakaran said.

Overall, she said, it has been inspiring to watch people inside and outside the hospital “step up.” She said she hopes that the country, state and hospital are better prepared next time they are confronted with a crisis like this.

“I think it has been interesting to see people go step up to something that we really don’t know a whole lot about and be so innovative, whether it’s just being creative with conserving PPE or provides people with a unique opportunity to really just get creative, whether it’s coming up with new ways to ventilate people that are on ventilators but we don’t have enough or things like that,” Karunakaran said. “It’s pretty inspiring to see people really step up, but I hope in the future we’re a little more prepared.”

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