N.J. Nurse on Stress of Caring for COVID-19 Patients: 'I Don't Know How Much Longer We Can Do This'

Cedar Wang, 45, is on the frontlines of a pandemic that has infected more than 9,000 health-care workers to date, and taken the lives of colleagues

cedar wang
Photo: Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center

From the time COVID-19 cases took hold at the New Jersey hospital where nurse Cedar Wang works, the days have been long and relentless.

Starting in early March, she worked a stretch of 45 days with only three days off. COVID-19 patients are kept isolated from loved ones and their faces are mostly hidden behind protective masks. “The fear in people’s eyes sticks with me,” Wang, 45, says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “I see those eyes when I go to sleep.”

She’s witnessed a lot of that fear. As the nation continues to reel from the pandemic’s brutal death toll, more than 9,000 health-care workers on the front lines have been infected to date, threatening not only their health but placing unimaginable stress on them mentally.

To read more about Wang’s experiences and coping in the midst of the epidemic, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

Holy Name Medical Center where she works in Teaneck, New Jersey, has increased its number of ICU beds from 19 to 121, seen more than 2,000 people test positive for the virus and so far has lost 108 patients to the disease.

A psychotherapist who specializes in the effects of trauma, Laurie Nadel, tells PEOPLE: “Acute stress is very similar to PTSD, where you’re just flooded with the sense of helplessness. You keep working through it, but there’s always a feeling that something else horrible is going to happen.”

Wang reached one of her lowest moments when a beloved hospital colleague, 75-year-old patient transport worker Jose Villaluz, died of the disease.

holy name medical center
Hospital staff pay tribute to colleague Jesus Villaluz, who died from COVID-19. Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center
jesus villaluz card
Holy Name Medical Center

“Everyone knew it,” Wang says. “People just gathered, all of the nurses that had cared for him, people that he had worked with, and his boss pushed him out of the ICU and down this long corridor where everyone was just lining up, really weeping.”

“Then, just as he was about to exit, applause broke out,” she says.

The loss led Wang to place a rare phone call from work to her husband, Peter, 47, a pastor and the father of their three children. “She was heaving, sobbing,” he says. “I just needed to hear your voice,” she told him.

“There are days I’ve said to my husband, ‘I don’t know how much longer we can do this,’ ” Wang says.

  • Reporting by CAITLIN KEATING

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