Compassion fatigue sets in for central Indiana nurses as the latest COVID surge takes hold

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INDIANAPOLIS — As COVID numbers continue to surge, area nurses and doctors are bracing for yet another wave of cases. For some front line health care workers compassion fatigue is starting to set in.

“I’ve gone up and helped families with people I know, or people I care about. I’ve taken them off of life support, and watched them die,” tells Louis Profeta who is an emergency physician in Indianapolis who is currently working at Ascension St. Vincent, “It’s real. There’s no hidden agenda with us. Get vaccinated with us. Please do it for the people you love.”

The intensive care unit (ICU) at Eskenazi is overwhelmed with COVID patients. Nurses there say the vast majority are unvaccinated Hoosiers. In fact, they tell us only three to four patients in the ICU are vaccinated, and that those individuals made quicker recoveries.

“For me, is it frustrating that people don’t want to get vaccinated? Yes, but is it frustrating that people still smoke, people drink too much, and people do other things that impact their health? Absolutely,” tells Karen Tucker, Nursing Manager in the Critical Care Department at Eskenazi Hospital, “We aren’t here to pass judgement. We aren’t here to say you did this to yourself. If people could just take care of things that would keep them out of the hospitals that would be great.”

Tucker says Eskenazi Hospital is dealing with staffing crunches and limited ICU beds. Unlike other areas of the hospital, she says the ICU has never really had a reprieve from COVID.

“You can see it in peoples faces. It’s hard to come to work,” adds Tucker, “Some of our fellow colleagues have been our patients. We have taken care of them. There are experiences with COVID that I will never forget. There are some that are the lost years. I can’t tell you if this happened six months ago or 18 months ago, but it happened.”

Nurses are often speaking to the benefits of the vaccine, but say all too often that advise is ignored. They are left to repeat the same information over and over to patients with some nurses admitting they have given up in that regard.

“We just diagnose them with COVID, put them on ventilators, and set them up for monoclonal and antibody therapy, and we pray they don’t die,” explains Profeta, “It’s sad. It hurts in your soul to know that some of these people would be fine if they had just got a free vaccine.”

The constant battle against the virus is taking a mental and physical toll on these frontline workers.

“I mean it’s exhausting,” admits Profeta, “Most of us are having trouble sleeping. Our own health has diminished somewhat. We have all gained weight.”

“Its like anything in life. You go through it again and again and again, and the continued repeated response, and doing this again, it wears on your soul,” says Tucker.

As the hospitals continue to fill up, the fear also turns to those individuals seeking medical treatment outside of COVID. Both Profeta and Tucker say that the lack of beds now impacts the treatment time for people hurt by gun violence, or those Hoosiers who may need elective surgeries.

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