UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Even with COVID-19 cases in the Carolinas coming down, some hospitals across North Carolina and South Carolina are slammed with patients. One Union County nurse described the pandemic as a "never-ending nightmare."
For Corinne Chausse, what she's experiencing at Atrium Health's hospital in Union County is eerily similar to her time in a New York City field hospital. She went with Samaritan's Purse to New York City, then the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, in April of 2020.
“After the first week, the realization set in on all of us that we were not winning against this virus,” Chausse told WCNC Charlotte.
In the month she was there, Chausse cared for hundreds of patients. Only two survived.
She worked in a field hospital again in January 2021, but much closer to home in Lenoir. When Samaritan’s Purse asked her to go to Mississippi this summer, she said she didn't have anything left to give.
“I’m exhausted from it," Chausse said. "I just can't, and especially in the setting where there's a vaccine, I don't think I have the right heart and the right attitude to deal with that compassionately. And then here I am in Union County dealing with it."
Chausse has over a decade's worth of experience working in the ICU and her skill set has been vital in caring for COVID-19 patients. Chausse said the hospital has been bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients. Unlike in the field hospitals, they're younger and healthier and the level of care they require is extreme.
“It’s controlled chaos sometimes,” she said. “The other day I was here, and they called code blue three times on three different people. And that’s the reality of this."
The harshest part of that reality is 98% of the people in the ICU are unvaccinated. In New York City, she realized no matter how hard they tried, people would still die. Now Chausse realizes it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Just be intelligent about this because your life could depend on it," Chausse said. "That’s not drama. It’s being played out here. It’s being played out everywhere. Get vaccinated."
Chausse said a few weeks ago they ran out of body bags when four people died in one night.
“We get angry that this is happening," she said. "Obviously, we're very sad. And then you get almost to the point where you're resigned to this is the way it’s going to be and you still do your best, but you adopt a new expectation and it’s very difficult."
That loss is something health care workers aren't equipped to deal with. The sheer volume has been overwhelming and has taken a tremendous toll on their mental health.
"I did a 12-hour night helping out and I looked up the patients that I had taken care of a week ago and they were all gone. All of them," she said. “When your life is geared to saving people, and then you have the whole picture where you know this is a mom or a dad, or a son or a brother you know, that just intensifies the tragedy.”
She is urging people to do their research, talk to their physicians and consider getting vaccinated to take some of the burden off of health care workers.
COVID-19 vaccines are readily available throughout the community.