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The past year has been a challenge for everyone, but nurses are in their own category

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The past year has been a challenge for just about everyone in Kern County — for businesses, for schools, and for those in the medical profession — especially those in the medical profession.

KGET spoke with four nurses at three local hospitals about what 2020 and 2021 thus far have been like, and they confirmed: It’s been a harrowing year in America. More than half a million dead, many millions more affected in some profound way. 

The pandemic has tried our resolve, tested our science, taxed our patience. It has affected nearly every facet of life since — work, play, school, family — and of course medical. Hospital nurses in particular have been the front-line soldiers in this fight, and their challenges have been many.

What kind of toll has the pandemic taken on medical personnel? Four nurses weighed in: Desiree Brandon, nursing supervisor at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital; Kelliane O’Neill, ICU director at Mercy Hospital on Truxtun Avenue; Amanda Swanson, a charge nurse at Adventist Health Bakersfield; and Josh Karns, her colleague at Adventist.

They each have their own take on the way the pandemic has played out locally but they agree on one thing — in the vast majority of cases, their colleagues’ dedication to the mission of their profession has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Memorial’s Desiree Brandon said Covid-19 took several weeks to gain a real foothold after that first positive test, but then it really hit.

“Definitely challenges” for the nursing staff over the past year, Brandon said. “I don’t think we’ve really seen the end of that. Anybody that goes through a very emotional or a tragic event or situation in their life, when they sit down to talk about it — I’m sure you’ve seen it — they take a deep breath before they go on. That’s when the tears come and the emotional response (follows). We’re at that point where we’re taking that deep breath. But we haven’t let it out yet. Because it’s not yet over.”

Mercy’s Kelliane O’Neill is proud of what she has seen this past year in her fellow nurses — but she knows there will be consequences.

“The nurses have had to go through something unimaginable,” she said. “The amount of death that they — and myself  — have seen over the past year is more than I’ve seen in my 10 year nursing career. And so having to deal with patient after patient dying and then moving on in that same shift. … We’re stressing mental health 100 percent.”

Amanda Swanson of Adventist was so discouraged by what she heard from skeptics in Kern County and across the U.S., she simply had to stop listening.

 “I think that part is what made it hard for me to sleep when I wasn’t working,” she said. “… During the election cycle it was really hard to hear things like, ‘The nurses are making this up to make more money for the hospital.’ I can’t imagine any nurse that I know that would want to go through something that emotionally exhausting, that physically stressful, just for a little extra money. It was devastating.”

Josh Karns, also of Adventist, remembers his worst day.   

“There was a very critically ill elderly lady.,” he said. “She was on a ventilator. I remember doing everything I could to help fight for her…. I got really attached to the family and attached to this patient. …  But nothing was working.”

Ultimately doctors decided it was time to ask the family if they were ready to make that most difficult decision. They were — and they readied themselves to say goodbye. But hospital rules — Karns was compelled to tell them — limited them to one family member in the room.

“And I remember telling them, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s not supposed  to be like this. ,'” Karns said. .”.. I got pretty emotional.”

The four nurses agree those are the worst kind of days. They agree on this too: It’s not over till it’s over. And right now, even though many people are emerging from semi-isolation as Covid numbers start to improve, it’s definitely not over.