CONWAY, Ark. — It was only three months ago that KARK4 had a rare opportunity to show you the COVID-19 floor of Conway Regional.

At the time, three floors were dedicated to serving COVID-19 patients. The patients’ doors were left closed at all times and supplies were in the hallway, in order to avoid contamination.

Most striking, though, nurses said, was the loneliness.

“It’s heart-wrenching to watch your patients being in a room by themselves all day with a really loud machine,” said Mallori Kunkel, RN.

The frontline nurses we spoke to were exhausted, physically and mentally. But they said what kept them going was knowing they had a calling and that their work matters.

We wanted to check back in on those frontline nurses to see how they’re doing today.

“We look back at this empty section and hallway and say, we did this,” said Hannah Ray, RN.

What a year it’s been for nurses like Hannah Ray. In the beginning, there was fear.

“Mostly because we didn’t know how to treat these patients or if our treatments would even work,” Ray said.

And the nurses had to take on new roles for their patients’ sake.

“To become their family and their counselors and their friends,” Ray said.

Then, they had to say goodbye to some of those friends.

“And knowing that the last time that their family saw them was three weeks ago, a month ago,” Ray said. “It’s just devastating.”

But pain often has a purpose.

“This has brought us tremendously closer,” Ray said. “You grow in appreciation for what each member of this hospital does, no matter what their title is.”

There are 12 COVID beds at Conway Regional now instead of 43. At one point, some of those 43 beds had to be housed in a different building.

“Today, we’re able to take care of our patients within the walls of our hospital,” said Conway Regional CEO Matt Troup. “So, it’s a dramatic difference from where we were back at the height of this.”

More visitors are allowed and 500 COVID patients have recovered.  

“It’s a great sign that we’re making progress toward getting past this pandemic,” Troup said.

And while some COVID nurses’ stations are now empty, a dark shadow lingers.

“Because you know what’s been behind those doors and you’ve seen it and you’ve experienced it,” Ray said. “So, I think that that hurt and that memory will always be there.”