JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Trend lines for COVID-19 infections are spiking again weeks before Thanksgiving.
For nurses on the First Coast, that increase comes with both epidemiological risks and emotional ones.
Even before the recent resurgence, front lines workers were feeling the strain. First Coast News reporter Leah Shields has been following three Jacksonville nurses over the course of eight weeks to share their stories of the fight on the frontline.
It's been the defining crisis of their careers.
“Hey just getting home from my shifts for the week. Pretty good week for us," Katherine Lomeli recorded herself saying this in her car after work in September.
“I’m in the ICU," explains Keri Ellision, "We see the worst of the worst scenarios anyway, but the COVID patients are just ... they are their own different scenarios for sure."
“It seems like every floor turned into COVID,” nurse Michelle Murrietta says remembering when it all began back in March.
Lomeli, Murrietta, and Ellison are nurses, three out of 3.8 million nationwide. Murrietta and Ellison work at Baptist Health Jacksonville and have been battling the coronavirus since March.
“I still remember going into my first positive room. I said OK, this is my job. I've got to do it," Ellison said.
They knew what had to be done, but they couldn’t save everyone. More than 200,000 people have died in the U.S. due to the virus.
These nurses say the hardest part is families aren’t allowed in the hospital right now, leaving patients with coronavirus battling it alone. The nurses explained that when someone doesn't make it, the final goodbyes are spoken over Zoom or FaceTime.
Memories of those last moments haunt them. Ellison shared a story about a man in his 50s who died from COVID-19. She was one of his nurses.
She says on the last day, they were able to bring his wife and son up to the window looking into his room.
“There were three nurses in the room with him and he basically was like 'I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore. Please let me be comfortable,'" Ellison said.
"We had (his wife) at the window and we’re on FaceTime. He had the phone up to his ear and we took the mask off and it was heart wrenching," said Ellison. "She’s at the window saying 'don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me.' He just felt like he had no other choice and he passed away right there like that."
When the fight is over, the only thing left to do is sit with a patient when their family cannot.
“I just didn’t want her to die alone," Murrietta said. "We had other patients. The others nurses that I worked with that day, they kind of took care of those other ones for me while she was going so that way she had someone there with her talking to her. That way she knew someone was there for her.”
Lomeli joined the fight in July when her unit at UF Health Jacksonville turned into a COVID-19 unit.
“I’ve seen young people like really sick. Then I’ve seen 80-year-olds that are like oh I have COVID ... Pleasantly confused so it’s like there is no normal trend to it," said Lomeli.
They are moms, daughters, wives and friends, and when they go home, they carry the burden with them.
As infections increase, they are always ready and prepared for another wave.
They are ready to care for the most vulnerable at a time when no one else can.