California’s Nurses Fear What’s to Come: ‘Walk Down Our Unit for a Day’


California’s Nurses Fear What’s to Come: ‘Walk Down Our Unit for a Day’

The nurses of California are afraid. 

It’s Christmas Eve, and they aren’t home with their families. They are working, always working, completely gowned up — and worn down.

They’re frightened by what people are doing, or not doing, during a coronavirus pandemic that has already killed more than 320,000 nationwide and shows no signs of slowing down.

They’re even more terrified of what’s next.

“Every day, I look into the eyes of someone who is struggling to breathe,” said nurse Jenny Carrillo, her voice breaking.

A charge nurse at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, Carrillo is haunted by the daily counts of COVID-19 patients. Dark shadows circle her eyes.

By Tuesday evening, the hospital had 147 coronavirus patients — a record for Holy Cross but a tiny fraction of the 2 million cases recorded in California since the pandemic began.

Close to 19,000 people were hospitalized in the state Wednesday, and models project the number could top 100,000 in a month — unimaginable for medical systems that are already running out of room. More than 23,000 people with COVID-19 have died in California, and the number is only expected to climb.

Dr. Jim Keany, associate director of Mission Hospital’s emergency department in Southern California’s Orange County, wonders how much more they can handle.

“Are we going to have the resources to take care of our community?” he said.

The first COVID-19 case in California was confirmed Jan. 25. It took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on Nov. 11.

Just 44 days later, the number hit 2 million.

On Tuesday, Holy Cross had 147 coronavirus patients across its 377 beds, more than double the record seen at the hospital in the first wave of the pandemic earlier this year.

“If you had told us in April that we’d have 147 patients?” said Elizabeth Chow, Holy Cross’ executive director of critical care and a nurse leader. “Never in my wildest dreams.”

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