Special Report: Firstline: Caring for Siouxland

Special Report

In baseball, they’re known as pinch hitters. In the classroom, a substitute. But in neither case is the person’s life on the line. But for the “Call-Ups” of this COVID-19 age, a dark cloud hangs around every ICU corner.

 “Everybody has been so appreciative of us coming,” said Terry Roberts of Stafford, Connecticut.

“I’m young, I’m healthy why not go help. I feel like I have no reason not to go do it,” said Samantha Gullotto of Syracuse, New York.

Gullotto and Roberts are what’s known as travel nurses, putting aside personal concerns to fulfill a calling to help halfway across the country and in the middle of the largest health care emergency our nation has ever experienced.

“She called me and said, ‘You’re going to Sioux City, Iowa.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, Okay.’  I’ve never heard of it before and that was it. I left a week later,” said Gullotto.

What Gullotto and other travel nurses find after arriving at MercyOne Siouxland looks a lot like what they left behind. 

“I really feel for these patients because they were healthy people who weren’t really sick.  Just in the time I’ve been here, the decline has been really heartbreaking,” Roberts said.

It happened at a time when nursing numbers are already a concern.

“I never thought we’d experience this,” said Jenni O’Donnell from Mason City.

The front line relievers are undeterred. 

“Never, never ever have I seen anything so devastating,” added O’Donnell.

Jenni O’Donnell and fellow critical care nurse Jason McWhorter are pitching in after making the short trip from Mason City.   

“I’m used to caring for critically ill people but this is a new thing for us to see,” said Jason McWhorter.

“I wish people could see how sick some of these people are.  Just because you’re young and healthy doesn’t mean you have a free pass from this thing,” he added.

“All of these people are fighting the same fight pretty much.  Everybody in this unit is Covid so they are all fighting the battle with their lungs, their kidneys and liver, added O’Donnell.”

“Some days it’s a little rough. We’ve lost some pretty young people.  And then there are other days where it is rewarding and people graduate out of the critical care unit,” said O’Donnell.

A payback of sorts, for the sacrifice these men and women offer.

“I’ve got a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old and wife at home so not being with them everyday and kind of in my own routine is a challenge.  I’ve been home a few times and remind them I’m alive,” Jason McWhorter said. 

So many have died. More than 800 in Iowa alone.  Which begs the question, why would anyone ask to be put in the middle of such uncertainty and in an unfamiliar place?

“We just did what nurses do and go help those who need help and it’ been quite an experience. A great experience one that I’m never going to forget for many reasons,” McWhorter said

“I’ve heard people talking and they don’t think it’s that bad.  I wish they could just see a day in the life of a nurse who’s going through this and really understand and take it more seriously so this passes sooner rather than later,” O’Donnell said.

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