DES MOINES, Iowa — They aren’t the first people you think of when you hear about those working on the front lines caring for COVID-19 patients, but they are still risking their lives to care for Iowans infected with the virus.
Some of the sickest patients, the men and women facing life and death, arrive at the hospital by air.
“You kind of have to go into each flight thinking it could be COVID,” said LifeFlight Manager Michael Zweigart.
The crew at UnityPoint Health is seeing about three times the normal daily volume. Right now, the coronavirus makes up about 70% of all calls.
“Crews get tired, staff get tired. Just putting on the extra precautions is more fatiguing,” said Zweigart.
The LifeFlight team is carrying an even heavier load. They aren’t just picking up and dropping off patients. They often start treatment or continue patient care right up until they land.
“You come into this shift concerned about yourself and your own family. You also have to set that aside because you have to deal with the patients and the patients’ families as well,” he said.
Over at MercyOne, families are dealing with their own challenges. New mothers infected with the coronavirus face a heartbreaking wait to hold their babies.
“This sweet, sweet baby I’m caring for, the mom and baby are apart. It tugs at my heartstrings because I’m a mom. I just can’t image the pain and the fear they feel,” explained NICU nurse Kate Jones.
Jones does her best to be a surrogate mom.
“I got your back. I’m your nurse, but I got your back. I hope that that transcends to them to know that they are being cared in the best way I know how,” said Jones.
The nurses have stepped in to hold and hug about two dozen babies for the mothers who can’t. Many even volunteer to care for COVID-19 patients at the risk of themselves and their own families.
“Today I was the coronavirus nurse so no hugs, no kisses when I get home. It’s straight to the shower, clean up head to toe and then I get to hug my family,” she said.
Jerry Bernhardt has spent his life comforting people in their time of need.
“I can’t really imagine not being able to be with their loved ones at the time of death, but when they’re able to cry with us, I can cry with them and help them, pray with them,” he said.
The chaplain has walked the halls at MercyOne going on 25 years now. He can be the only other face patients see.
“I come in and I’m a presence. I come in with my mask on and stay six feet away, but I’m there for them — whether they want prayer or just want someone to talk to,” said Bernhardt.
It’s not just patients he lends an ear to or bows his head with.
“A lot of times, I’ll minister more to staff because of COVID and because there’s a lot of tension in this place, and I think it does help,” explained Bernhardt.
He is among those who are helping others out on the front lines and behind the scenes.