A Different Kind of Holiday for Hospital Workers in a Pandemic

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Doctors and nurses are used to working on Thanksgiving, but this year is different.

Almost 30 COVID-19 patients are isolated at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, Maryland, where the doctors and nurses caring for them are their surrogate family members this Thanksgiving.

“I think it’s something that comes naturally,” Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Katie Byrd said. “Definitely more so now because people can’t be with their loved ones, but that is part of our job every day.”

As fall transitions to the colder winter months, the day-to-day for doctors like Byrd likely will get tougher. 

Health experts warn the surge in new cases foreshadows a dark winter to come.

“Every day is a new challenge,” Emergency Department Nurse Manager Robb Hawthorne said.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

As millions neglect CDC guidelines and travel this weekend, Hawthorne worries December could look like May. 

“We are starting to see that uptick again, especially in the emergency department,” he said.

Intensive Care Unit Medical Director Manu Kaushal says they’re better prepared to handle another surge, but he’s worried about the increased stress anxiety and mental burnout that comes with it.

“It’s beyond imagination,” he said. “It essentially feels like we’re in the middle of a mixed martial arts fight but we don’t know what round this is. We never really got a break in between rounds, and instead of our bodies, it’s our spirits that are being battered and bruised.”

Things will likely get worse before they get better, so the frontline workers continue to draw strength from each other to keep fighting as they risk their own lives to save their patients.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re getting there,” Hawthorne said. “We just all want to make sure we get there together.”

Doctors say the increase in testing should help them deal with the second surge better than the first, but they’re asking anyone who traveled during this holiday period to isolate and get a test as soon as they can.

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