LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As many gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember the heroes on the frontline that are still hard at work. It’s not unusual for healthcare professionals to miss out on holidays, but with the COVID-19 pandemic creating an unprecedented strain on hospitals, Thanksgiving looks very different for nurses this year.
While Americans across the nation gather to celebrate with family and friends this Thanksgiving, healthcare workers continue to fight on the frontlines of COVID-19, not stopping even for a national holiday. “I’ve always worked holidays, it’s just part of it.” Alisa Carlock has worked at the U.A.M.S intensive care unit for over a decade, and says it’s not unusual to see nurses on holidays trading serving spoons for scrubs. But this year is different. “I was here during H1N1,” Carlock said, “and it was nothing compared to what we’re seeing now.”
ICUs across the state are swamped, and nurses like Carlock see some of the worst cases. “I wish I could tell you that all the patients that come to ICU walk out,” said Carlock, “but they don’t.” Healthcare workers stretched thin are forgoing family time to help keep patients alive, but with a record number of cases, the already stressed staff is having to work overtime. Carlock has missed a number of important holidays this year, including her 25th wedding anniversary. “I had planned a huge celebration that [was] completely taken away from me thanks to COVID,” she said.
But nurses and doctors are doing what they can to keep spirits up, including having their own celebrations. “We always have a potluck, we love to eat,” Carlock said. “We will decorate.” They also spend time with patients on important or festive days, when loved ones can’t be there. Carlock remembers a particularly moving moment with one under her care: “I held her hand and just said a prayer: ‘Lord, she doesn’t get to be home with her family.'”
Although this unprecedented holiday season is full of uncertainty, the courage of healthcare workers and their selfless dedication to their patients reminds us we must hold on to hope. “The reality is,” said Carlock, “if we can just get past this, it’s going to get better.”
To do your part to keep ICU beds open, the Arkansas Department of Health recommends wearing a mask whenever out in public, maintaining social distancing, washing your hands frequently, and getting a flu shot.