For ICU nurse, care is a waiting game of hope

In late March, Sara Brodsky, a nurse at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, learned that her intensive care unit would be the first in St. Louis to switch to working only with patients sick with COVID-19.

She had experience treating people with pulmonary issues who were critically ill, but the first day after the switch “was definitely a shock,” she said.

“Just to see the way COVID was affecting the body, I was in shock that a virus could do this to somebody,” said Brodsky, 25, who grew up in St. Louis and belongs to Congregation Shaare Emeth. “Then, really, it was just a waiting game to hope that the things we were doing would help.”

That help included intubating patients to help them breathe with a ventilator. Her first patient also needed dialysis and blood pressure support. He was in his 70s and remained in a medically induced coma for the next three and a half weeks. 

During that time, Brodsky went from being afraid to work in the unit to being able to “very clearly say that I’m not scared to enter a patient’s room anymore. I’m not scared to be up close to them,” she said.

Still, her proximity to the patients meant Brodsky had to remain distant from family and friends. 

“That was worse for me than being with the patients,” she said. 

In addition to providing medical care, Brodsky has also been helping to facilitate communication between patients and relatives. The unit has cameras for physicians and nurses to monitor patients from afar. Now, during the pandemic, nurses are sharing links to the video feed with patients’ family members, who aren’t able to enter the unit. 

“It’s kind of sad, but it’s great that we have this technology,” she said. 

Amidst the new challenges, Brodsky has “not been going hungry,” she said. “Every day, there is some sort of donation from a restaurant, so we have lots of good food.”

She and her colleagues all try to be supportive of one another “because, in all honesty, that’s the only actual physical, human interaction I get because I am quarantined alone at home, and in order to feel safe and close to someone, it’s my coworkers.”

In late April, Brodsky’s first patient recovered to the point that he no longer needed the breathing tube. When he woke up, Brodsky explained to the patient, who was confused, what had happened. 

“I would say that is the biggest impact I have experienced so far, because walking in with no hope a month ago to now seeing a patient recover, that’s the kind of the emotional effect that I need,” she said. “Not every patient is lucky enough to make it that far, but we are seeing people recover even from the bottom, so that’s good.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Sara Brodsky's name.