Editor’s note: It’s been a year since the coronavirus pandemic changed things in Eastern North Carolina, around the United States and the world. 9OYS is devoting a series of stories, videos and podcasts where we get a perspective on those different parts of life in ENC and how things have changed.
NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – Medical workers are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic. They’ve spent a year caring for the virus’ victims, often being their only human contact.
Family members are restricted from entering the COVID-19 unit at CarolinaEast Medical Center to avoid any spread of the virus. Only the sickest COVID patients are hospitalized on that floor in the intensive care unit.
At one point, CarolinaEast had about five floors dedicated to treating patients diagnosed with COVID. As of last week, they had two floors.
When the pandemic first struck the hospital, health care workers described it as chaos and nerve wrecking. There was more questions than answers.
“So I was definitely a little nervous, because I didn’t know what we we’re getting ourselves into,” said Sunil Kumta, hospitalist at CarolinaEast Medical Center.
Jeana Hudgins is a registered nurse at CarolinaEast. The memory of her first COVID patient is still fresh in her mind.
“And I remember my heart beating so fast, I came into work and didn’t realize that I would be working on the COVID unit,” said Hudgins.
Fast forward to March 2021. COVID vaccinations are rolling out, virtus testing has evolved and doctors are more confident in their treatments.
In 12 months, nurses and doctors have been strained to their limits, but Hudgins is less fearful now. She understands what signs and symptoms to look out for. Hudgins says there’s no more guessing games — the hospital is better armed to fight the virus.
“They now what supplies to order and and the medications and make sure we have certain items and equipment in stock and like how many people to staff on a certain unit now.”
These caregivers now follow policies and procedures learned from a year of uncertainty and turmoil.
Kumta and other hospital workers are still the last person dying patients in the hospital can physically see and touch due to the current COVID restrictions in hospitals.
“Some people do have family around, but some people don’t and you end being like their family, and then having them pass away, in the hospital except hospital staff that sometimes can be tough,” said Kumta.
The pandemic also changed nurses and doctors lives away from the hospital. The virus denied them contact with people they love. Hudgins wasn’t able to see her children as soon as she got home.
“With me working here I would go home, straight home, and change at the back door and run straight to the shower and not even let them get close to me or touch me,” said Hudgins.
But Hudgins believes things are starting to get better. Kumta believes the added protective layers he wears may be permanent.
“We may always have a COVID unit to some extent,” said Kumta.
He hopes the virus will be the least of their worries soon enough, “we just gotta pray and hope it’ll go away, I hope.”