Healthcare professionals who are bravely battling COVID-19 are sharing their own stories to inspire hope as they continue their fight

By Diane J. Cho
April 10, 2020 04:48 PM
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Risa Budoff

As citizens across the globe practice social distancing and self-isolate as they wait for the novel coronavirus to slow to a halt, healthcare professionals are risking their own lives to bravely battle COVID-19 every single day.

Since the United States has become the leading country for the most confirmed cases in the world, doctors and nurses from across the U.S. are sharing firsthand accounts from the frontlines, their most honest and raw feelings about working during the pandemic, and inspirational stories to offer insight into what their lives have been like during these uncertain times.

Here are their stories:

Nurse Shares Touching Photo of ‘Real Life’ in Quarantine

Kyle McBride, a registered nurse, husband and father of four, shared a photo of himself and his young child touching hands through a glass door. The moving image illustrates just how difficult and lonely it has been for nurses to continue their work while self-isolating from their families.

“This is my real life quarantine… since I’m an RN, my family and I have been separated for over a week and we have no clue when this will end,” he posted on Facebook on March 31. “I know we are all sacrificing in some way, but try to remember this picture the next time you are thinking of having a party, having people over, or going out unnecessarily. We ALL have a part… #Letsgetthisoverwith #Teamwork”

Surgeon Sends Sweet Yet Somber Note to Her Young Kids at Home

New York City-based surgeon Cornelia Grigg showcased the power of a mother’s love by tweeting a heart-wrenching message to her young kids.

On March 29, Griggs wrote, “My babies are too young to read this now. And they’d barely recognize me in my gear. But if they lose me to COVID I want them to know Mommy tried hard to do her job.”

Medical Director Details a Distressing ‘Day in the Life of an ER Doc’

Craig Spencer, the Director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center, shared a candid twitter thread on March 24 that outlines the typical day of an ER doctor. It’s since gone viral.

The thread begins with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up time for his 8 a.m. shift. “There is a cacophony of cough,” he wrote of entering the ER. “You stop. Mask up. Walk in.” Spencer said nearly every patient — young and old — shows the same symptoms: “cough, shortness of breath, fever.” Before 10 a.m., two of his patients must be put on life support.

“For the rest of your shift, nearly every hour, you get paged,” he continued. “Stat notification: Very sick patient, short of breath, fever. Oxygen 88%, Stat notification: Low blood pressure, short of breath, low oxygen, Stat notification: Low oxygen, can’t breathe. Fever.” It’s that, “all day…”

Then before he goes home, he makes sure to wipe everything down — “drown it in bleach.” Once he gets home, “you strip in the hallway (it’s ok, your neighbors know what you do).”

“Everything in a bag, ” he added. “Your wife tries to keep your toddler away, but she hasn’t seen you in days, so it’s really hard.”

“Run to the shower,” he finished. “Rinse it all away. Never happier.”

Nurse Gets Candid About Work Fatigue and Stress Compounded by Racism Against the Asian Community

Ari T., a graduate nurse based in Philadelphia, aired her feelings about Asian American healthcare workers who are battling COVID-19 as well as an increase in racist attacks since the pandemic began.

“This is what your frontline healthcare worker looks like,” she wrote on March 24, alongside a photo of herself in head-to-toe protective equipment. “I’m tired and not just from the 150 potential COVID-19+ specimens we collected today. I’m tired because I keep seeing stories of Asian Americans attacked and harassed in the streets. I’m tired because I hear Trump refer to SARS-COV-2 as the ‘Chinese Virus’. I’m tired because my husband is worried about me using the train by myself to come volunteer due to the racism and xenophobia aimed at Asian faces.”

“Countless Asian American clinicians are working on the frontlines of this pandemic,” she continued. “We are working to protect the health of the American people, yet our folks continue to be targeted.”

She ended her message, writing, “Don’t forget the Asian Americans in healthcare who are working to protect your loved ones. So please, protect ours because we’re #humanlikeyou.”

ER Physician Assistant Asks People to ‘Please Stay Home’ with Uplifting Photo

Risa Budoff, an emergency room physician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, has helped educate her Facebook followers by giving them an update from the frontlines of the fight and letting them know how they can help.

“The emergency room gets busier every day,” Budoff wrote on Facebook on March 23. “I feel it, the nurses feel it, the techs feel it. There’s a scary energy that continues to grow.”

“Everyone with minor to moderate symptoms needs to stay home and stay STRONG in terms of the strictness of their quarantine,” she continued. “Do not give up, do NOT let yourself become lax with the hand washing and the vigilance. Stay home if you are well. Stay AWAY from elderly people and friends who are well. Come to the emergency room ONLY if you cannot breathe and are too weak to walk.”

Budoff then asked her followers to help get gear for her colleagues, including gloves, gowns and N95 masks before writing, “we CANNOT TAKE BULLETS WITHOUT BULLET PROOF VESTS.”

She ended her note with a quote, which read, “we stay here for you, please stay home for us,” alongside a photo of her and her fellow colleagues posing in their gear, ready to bravely take on the day.

Nurse Enlists Fashion Designer Friend to Help Create Masks for Hundreds of Hospital Employees

Sylvia Mroz and Ellen Harkins

Ellen Harkins, a stem cell transplant nurse at University of Chicago Medicine, works with patients who are “extremely immunocompromised due to receiving chemotherapy, which knocks down their white blood cell counts,” she told PEOPLE via email. Even the common cold could be severely detrimental to anyone she treats.

When the pandemic began, Harkins started to feel anxious about trying to keep her patients safe, while also protecting her fellow healthcare employees from exposure.

“I did the worst thing possible for my anxiety and started Googling,” she said. “I was overwhelmed with the amount of information I read, but the one thing that stuck out to me was that bandanas and scarfs were being labeled as acceptable PPE (personal protective equipment).”

The thought immediately prompted her to call her friend Sylvia Mroz, owner of SYLOETTE, a women’s fashion company, to ask if she could help make surgical masks.

“There was not a second of hesitation in her voice,” Harkins recalled. “Before I knew it, we were on our way to the fabric store and coming up with a prototype in her workspace.”

“The mask that Sylvia created is based off of the N95, dual layered with cotton blends for sturdiness and protection,” she continued. “Four straight days off of nursing spent cutting, sewing, and putting all the little ingredients together that would help protect the lives of so many. I no longer had anxiety as I learned how to sew next to my best friend who would jokingly say ‘get back to work’ if I got side tracked.”

As of early April, the two women, with help from their loved ones, have created hundreds of masks that have been donated to hospitals in the greater Chicago area.

Neurology Resident Highlights How ‘Hundreds of Resident Physicians’ Have Joined the Fight Against COVID-19

The Committee of Interns and Residents

Daniel Oh, a neurology resident at Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Hospital, says that amid the chaos, he feels hopeful and inspired thanks to the unifying efforts being made within the Southern California medical community.

“At LAC + USC hospital, we have been fortunate to have resident physicians fighting the war against COVID-19 on many different fronts,” he told PEOPLE via email. “We have people working in the trenches, raising donations for personal protective equipment, and collecting concerns and questions from trainees so they can relay them to our administrators. Our efforts have been mobilized and streamlined through our union, the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR).”

“We feel closer, more vocal, and stronger than ever,” Oh continued.

“Together, we will fight this war with the exceptional teamwork I’ve been able to witness,” he added. “Fight on!”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.