One year later — ICU nurse shares his COVID experience

Published 9:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2021

Colby Kent is a registered nurse working in the intensive care unit of King’s Daughters Medical Center. Prior to the COVID outbreak, Kent worked several years as a surgical floor nurse, then moved to the ICU in March 2020.

The changes he experienced were immediate.

“It was a lot different from what we were used to,” Kent said. “Generally, we take care of people that are really sick and see them improve and go home. And we like to see that. But for COVID-19, a lot were really sick and there was nothing we could do to make them better.”

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Patients and their families were discouraged, as well as hospital staff.

“Seeing so many not get better was very discouraging and definitely took a toll on me and most of the other nurses that work here,” Kent said.

“I’m OK, but it has gotten more difficult to do my job, emotionally and mentally,” he said. “I love what I do and I never don’t want to go to work, and somebody needs to take care of these people.”

But seeing the same things every day and very little improvement in patients in the early days of the pandemic made the job harder. The use of additional personal protective equipment also slowed care down a bit — changing into new gowns, gloves, face masks and shields made it hard for ICU nurses to get their jobs done quickly, Kent said.

“We always keep a close eye on patients in the ICU, but with COVID-19 we had more unexpected things happen with these people. Their conditions would rapidly decline without notice, so we were keeping an even closer eye on each one,” he said.

Uncertainty — of how to treat patients in the best way possible and over whether a vaccine was coming — bred anxiety that didn’t stop when Kent went home to his wife.

In June, Kent also took something else home to his wife — both were exposed to the virus and both became infected. Fortunately for the Kents, their experience was not life-threatening and was short-lived, keeping the RN out of the hospital for less than three weeks.

Kent is grateful for that and can also see the positive in other aspects of his experience.

“A lot of times, when patients have been really sick, we are the only person (physically) there for them in their final days or hours. It’s hard, but in a sense it’s fulfilling to be there for them and as a contact for their families,” he said. “Over time, as we kind of learned how to treat this, it’s been great seeing patients improve. It’s very encouraging to see them get better and go home, and these times are getting more frequent.”

Everyone still needs to be careful and take proper precautions against the virus, Kent said, because cases are still coming into the hospital at a steady rate and medical staff are dealing with COVID-positive patients at any time, but he’s hopeful the worst has passed.

“It doesn’t seem like things are getting worse,” he said. “And that’s good.”