Colton Mearkle is a registered nurse at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia. When the pandemic began, his floor was converted to caring for COVID-19 patients.
He spoke with Eric Douglas recently about treating coronavirus patients and what he wants the rest of us to know.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: Describe for me the care that you provide for a COVID patient.
Mearkle: We come in in the morning and get our assignment. Pre-COVID we would go and introduce ourselves to the patient. Now, with COVID, we do that outside the room. We stand at the window and talk about the patient. When we’re going in to introduce ourselves, we have to wear a CAPR, a gown, double gloves, booties and a mask.
We also assess where they’re at in terms of their sickness. So, for instance a patient comes in and they developed symptoms three days ago. They’re clinically getting worse. We say, “Okay, let’s see if we can give them some convalescent plasma” or if they’re ready for Remdesivir, stuff like that. It just all kind of depends on where they are symptom-wise and where they are clinically.
Douglas: What are your thoughts when you see the big parties and people refusing to wear masks? How does that strike you?
Mearkle: I can look at it both ways. I can see it as a healthcare worker that there are people in here every day that are extremely sick, having to be intubated. And people that are going out, not really caring about wearing a mask. I personally wear a mask. I think we should wear masks, but I’m not going to judge them and say that they should wear a mask. I am wearing a mask because it’s protecting me. But if they don’t want to wear the mask, then I guess that’s their choice.
Douglas: I’m sure you’ve lost a few patients with COVID. We’ve heard all the stories about families not being able to be with their loved ones. What’s that like for you guys? How much of a burden is that on you?
Mearkle: That’s probably the hardest thing and something we see more than people realize. I think we’ve had a mother; a mother and a son; a mother, father, son; a mother, father and two sons; and a husband and wife. I can think of four or five families off the top of my head. And that’s just familywise. I think the saddest part is to see that one of these patients gets critically ill, one of them has to go to the ICU, and the other one isn’t taking the virus as hard. And they can’t see each other. They can’t communicate with each other.
Some patients can be in the hospital for 50 days. I think the longest patient we had on our floor was 55 days, and he didn’t see anything outside of his room. Staring at four walls and a window for 55 days, it’s pretty terrible.
I think the saddest thing is, we had a patient in here, his wife passed away from COVID and his son passed away from COVID. He couldn’t go see either of their funerals. So, we did FaceTime for him to watch both of his son and his wife be buried. When you tell people about it, they obviously know what happens, but until you live it and see it, it really hits home. It’s definitely real, and I wish everybody could see it for one day. I feel like a lot of people’s ideas of this thing and people’s views of it would change.
Douglas: Is there anything that you want add?
Mearkle: There probably will be another time where we can get back to reality. But I think that what we’ve done as a country, as a state, in terms of following these guidelines, whether you agree or disagree, I think it’s helped maintain a bridge where our hospital systems aren’t getting overwhelmed. So even just the general public knowing that following these guidelines, wearing your masks, has helped the hospital tremendously. So we, as frontliners, would like to thank the people who have been abiding by these rules.
This story is brought to you by Appalachia Health News, a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.