‘It takes a tremendous toll’: Local nurses reflect on working in the Critical Care Unit during the pandemic

Local News

MURRELS INLET, S.C. (WBTW) – As we near a year since the Coronavirus pandemic began to spread in South Carolina, the nurses working on the frontlines are experiencing fatigue.

Tara Ubides has been a nurse for 26 years and says this was always the career she saw herself in. Ubides works in the Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital Critical Care Unit. 

“I can honestly say I’ve seen more death this past year than I have my whole career,” she said. “I mean we are working so hard to keep them alive, and no matter what they are just dying.”

Ubides says as nurses, she and her coworkers have become family members for Coronavirus patients who are not able to see their families, and the burden is sometimes overwhelming.

“The joke is we have big personalities upstairs, but even us who are strong and have been doing this for so long have just been breaking down,” she explained. “I mean there is nothing we can do. We just have to cry and get it out and then we got to keep moving. We’ve got to keep going.”

On top of the mental exhaustion, nurses also face physical exhaustion, oftentimes working extra shifts or hours to keep the Critical Care Unit staffed.

“There are times I go out to my car and sit down and go, “My God what just happened for the last 13 hours?”,” Ubides said.

Nathan Mattox is the clinical director on the Critical Care floor, he says what has stood out to him most about his staff during the pandemic is their dedication. He also bears the same burden of working so closely with patients.

“It takes a tremendous toll,” he shared. “It’s tough to have to be the family member, be the nurse and like Tara said, sometimes hold that person’s hand and be there for them and to do this multiple times a day sometimes. I can’t begin to imagine the human cost of this.”

While he says this is like nothing they’ve experienced in healthcare, he still has hope after seeing patients recover.

“There was a gentleman who was in our unit on a ventilator for an extended period of time,” Mattox shared. “He was able to come off the ventilator, he was able to go to a rehab facility and he has gotten his life back and it is an absolutely tremendous story.”

He continued, “It makes it easier to come to work, knowing that we might be able to pull that off again.”

The emotions though are still raw for Mattox about patients who weren’t as lucky as that man.

“To the families who have lost someone, we still remember them,” Mattox said. “We carry their memory in our hearts. We think about them a lot and there is not a day that goes by that we don’t remember.”

Both Mattox and Ubides shared how much the community support has meant to them. Some people in the area brought meals, cards or displayed signs in their yards thanking them for their work.

There are resources available to healthcare workers at Tidelands who are battling fatigue or mental health issues.

Tidelands launched a portal for employees with Coronavirus resources and offers an Employee Assistance Program.

“We have a very robust EAP, or employee assistance program, and a partner that allows us to deliver a whole array of benefits,” Renee Shore, Director of Employee Wellness at Tidelands Health said. “From counseling to work-life resources, financial, legal, whatever their needs might be.”

Another one of the benefits is an online counseling options so employees can reach out at any time.
Shore continued that this is unchartered territory for healthcare workers and while the hospital system has always had a high participation rate in employee programs, it has increased during the pandemic.

“I’ve definitely seen an increase from managers wanting to extend the offer and let employees know what is available,” she said. “We are doing a lot to raise awareness to have more conversations that are comfortable and more frequent.

Shore said it’s important for healthcare workers to take care of themselves because of the work they do in the community.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending stories