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Recovering from COVID after caring for COVID patients

MRH registered nurse shares her personal experience of caring for sick patients; how she believes the vaccine protected her from severe COVID symptoms

The Memorial Hospital at Craig.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

There are times Denise Huff is so exhausted after a long day of work that it’s hard for her to be present for her own family.

Huff, a Med/Surg registered nurse at Memorial Regional Health, is one of the primary nurses in the COVID-19 unit at the hospital. Huff cares for COVID-19 patients full-time — a feat that is difficult, draining and distressing. Every day, she witnesses the cohesive exhaustion of her patients and co-workers.



“Watching our patients fight this disease can be devastating for them and us,” she said.

“We become these patients’ families because their families can’t be with them. They get their compassion from us, and we give everything we can to encourage them to fight and get better.”



As the Delta variant continues to spread in the community, accounting for most local cases, Huff urges community members to take the virus seriously, and subsequently, the vaccine.

“It’s important to consider the experiences of patients and frontline workers,” she said. “These patients are struggling every day just to catch their breath. The public doesn’t get to hear them ask us if they’re going to die. They don’t hear our patients on BiPAP say they wish they would’ve gotten the vaccine. They don’t see the long-term effects and recovery of COVID patients, even months after they’re released from the hospital.”

Helping patients stay alive

In the initial surge of the pandemic, mostly seniors and those with comorbidities were treated. These days, it’s younger individuals — ranging between the ages of 20 to 60 — who are largely unvaccinated. Even healthy adults with no previous medical conditions are getting ill enough to be hospitalized and put on oxygen, BiPAP or a ventilator.

“I wish we could get the younger population in the community to see what we’re seeing,” Huff said. “Unvaccinated patients are just sicker. They are on oxygen longer. They feel miserable longer. They have to be in the hospital longer without their family.”

As a rural hospital, Huff and her co-workers at MRH do everything they can to keep patients cared for close to home. But as hospital beds fill up or as patients’ conditions worsen and require higher levels of care, more and more COVID patients must be transported to larger city facilities in Grand Junction and even Denver.

“We do the best we can, but we also do what we feel is best for them,” she said. “Sometimes, that’s sending them away from home.”

Huff is an advocate for the COVID-19 vaccine. She believes this preventative measure is safer and oftentimes more effective than the medical treatment that is necessary for severe COVID patients.

“It’s hard to watch patients die from this disease when we know we have something to help them fight it off better,” Huff said. “Truly, the disease is so much worse than any potential side effects from the vaccine.”

How the vaccine helped

Huff recently recovered from a mild case of COVID-19 herself. It was the Delta variant. She credits her vaccine — which she received last December when it became open for healthcare staff — for her quick recovery time and lack of severe symptoms.

“Honestly, I was scared to receive the vaccine at first because of the unknown, even though experts had done many studies and tests,” she admitted. “By getting the vaccine, I wanted to show that it was safe, and if I’m OK, you’ll be OK, too.”

Huff said she is grateful to have a family who understands the severity of the disease and why she needs to give so much of herself to her patients every day at work.

“I feel like it’s part of my role in humanity to protect not just myself, but my patients and others in our community,” she concluded. “The more people we can get vaccinated, the more protected we all are.”

Get Your Vaccine

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant is surging in the U.S. and is accountable for more than 99 percent of all COVID-related cases. It is twice as contagious as previous strains, emphasizing the importance of getting the vaccine to protect you and your loved ones from severe disease, hospitalization and death.

Memorial Regional Health administers the COVID-19 vaccine in Craig. Moderna (two shots), Pfizer (two shots) and Johnson & Johnson (single shot) vaccines are available. Call 970-826-2400 to schedule an appointment.

 


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