Finding purpose on the frontlines

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming next on The World and Everything in It: life on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight.

Here’s WORLD reporter Anna Johansen.

KLEINSASSER: These last few weeks have felt like years to me.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: This is Jackie Kleinsasser. She’s an emergency room nurse in South Dakota.

KLEINSASSER: It’s the thing of nightmares. It’s something—again, it’s just something I never thought I would experience. 

And this is Eric White. He’s an ICU nurse in California.

WHITE: Things had changed so drastically in 48 hours, I couldn’t believe it. I realized, oh, oh shoot, this is going to be bad. 

Fighting COVID-19 is unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

WHITE: Most of the time, you know, on a day-to-day basis, healthcare’s extremely wasteful with all of our stuff.

Now they ration face masks and repurpose equipment.

WHITE: To the point where I had to shave my beard of 10 years in order to utilize a certain type of mask, much to my wife’s sadness. I had to do that on Friday.

Jackie Kleinsasser lives in a rural farming community. She says that has actually been a blessing.

KLEINSASSER: A lot of the supplies such as N95 masks that are recommended to be worn, um, when being exposed to COVID-19, our farmers, our ranchers, our ag businesses, they have those. And so they have donated tons of them to us. My husband went out to our shop where he keeps his N95s that he uses to clean out his grain bins and he found 50 of them for me.

When she goes to work, she has to operate as if every patient she encounters has COVID-19.

KLEINSASSER: So when I meet a patient for the first time in the ER, even if they’re in with an ankle sprain, I’m putting on my N95 mask, my eye protection, and a face shield at a minimum.

But extra protection takes extra time—time Eric White says he doesn’t have.

WHITE: The whole reason people are in the intensive care is because when something goes wrong, they need to have an intervention right away.

That means he might not have the 90 seconds it takes to put on the extra protective gear.

WHITE: In the intensive care on Friday, we had two code blues, which is where somebody, either their heart stops or their breathing stops.

Two code blues—at the same time—on different sides of the unit. And almost no extra hands.

WHITE: So it was just, you know, running in without any protective stuff to start, you know, saving somebody’s life. And then only to come to find out, Oh, we need to test them for the COVID virus. It just it doesn’t allow you to protect yourself as much.

His work hours have doubled, but everyone is still scrambling to keep up. They need more hands simply because they can’t get to places as quickly.

WHITE: When you are stuck in another room and the door is closed and you’ve got this hood on sometimes blowing air and you can’t hear anything, you need other eyes on your other patients.

But COVID-19 isn’t just something they have to deal with at work. It changes home life, too. Kleinsasser is still living in the same house with her husband and three young daughters, but she’s keeping her distance.

KLEINSASSER: I have my own bathroom. I’m not cooking for them anymore. When I’m around them, I’m trying to wear my mask. Which is pretty alarming to your 3-year-old when you try to tell them that I can’t hug her, I can’t kiss her…She can’t sit on my lap. That things are just different right now.

White usually has evening devotions with his wife and five kids. But these days, he doesn’t get home until late. So they’ve had to change the routine.

WHITE: When I have a break that I can call, um, call the house…FaceTime and kind of lead us in some Scripture reading and some hymns during my break.

The virus has also forced many healthcare workers to grapple with some tough questions.

KLEINSASSER: I did have a coworker that has young children like mine…and she talked about how she had told her husband that this weekend when she was off from work…she was going to fill out her will, something that they’ve been putting off for quite some time. And you know, he didn’t really want to hear that. And she said, no, this is serious. We’re going to do this. We need to be ready. Those are the things that, um, healthcare workers are doing on their days off.

So how do they cope?

KLEINSASSER: I have no words for how grateful I am for my relationship with the Lord. I truly do not know what I would do if I could not go to the Lord in prayer, spend some time reading my Bible, getting my mind right before I go into work.

White agrees: Being a Christian makes all the difference.

WHITE: And especially knowing that I have no fear of death, like death was conquered in Christ. You know, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.

Of course he wants to take precautions and he doesn’t want anyone else to get sick. But he knows healthcare workers are the last line of defense. And for him, that gives each day extra purpose.

WHITE: We need to be willing to set aside our own concerns and say, I am trained specifically to do this and if I don’t do it, nobody will.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.

(John Autey/Pioneer Press via AP) Nurses gather in one of the wards at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. on Thursday, March 26, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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