One by one, they told the triage nurse their stories.
Each patient had gone to a different Thanksgiving family gathering.
Each host had been ill, and felt poorly enough to retire to a bedroom at some point and return.
Nobody was wearing a mask.
Nobody was observing social distancing.
Each of the patients had since been notified by a relative from the gathering that the host had tested positive for COVID.
Each patient had fallen ill and sought medical attention.
And now, in the course of a single shift the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, they were sharing with this nurse in the Pacific Northwest tales of recklessness in the time of COVID. The details became increasingly incredible for being so identical.
“To be hearing the same story over and over and over...” the nurse told The Daily Beast on Thursday.
On top of that, a fourth patient reported to the nurse that he had gone to a family Thanksgiving gathering out of state and visited a friend in that town who was ill.
“All four of those I triaged yesterday have now been notified their hosts or friend have tested for COVID-19 after the gathering,” the nurse said. “These three hosts and one friend have positive results.”
The nurse, who asked not to be identified because she is not authorized by her employer to speak to the press, further reported, “The four patients I triaged are now symptomatic, have been tested for COVID-19, with results pending.”
The election was over, but the disconnection was continuing. The holiday surge on top of the existing surge had begun, just as predicted by the experts who had warned us to be wary of holiday gatherings.
“People have a disconnect to the severe consequences of this virus,” the nurse said. “They are going about their lives as if it doesn’t exist!”
For the four patients the nurse triaged, reality asserted itself with the news that somebody they had seen at Thanksgiving had tested positive.
“People notified by their own family and friends,” the nurse said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
As the four themselves fell ill, they all exhibited the same, suddenly sane reaction.
“They’re scared,” the nurse said. “They know they’re in trouble.”
But the time for precautions had passed. What was done was done.
“Unfortunately, the actions had already occurred,” the nurse said.
Judging from some of the patients the nurse saw before Thanksgiving, these were likely not the only holiday get-togethers where the host was ill.
“I triaged several elderly women, who were symptomatic and preparing to host family gatherings for Thanksgiving,” the nurse said. “The dichotomy was bizarre. They talked about ‘not wanting to get anyone else sick,’ while requesting to be tested for COVID-19 due to their symptoms.”
She concluded, “I would say some listened to my recommendations to self-isolate, while others continued to plan their family gatherings.”
The nurse is unable to fathom how anybody with symptoms would place their loved ones in such peril.
“I just can’t wrap my head around it,” the nurse said. “They’re being unsafe and spreading the virus.”
She worked only a half-day on Wednesday, and the cases appeared to be more of the result of the general community spread that has been feeding the surge that began before Thanksgiving.
On Thursday, she was back to working a full shift and triaged 15 COVID cases.
“One of those did have family contact on Thanksgiving,” she said. “They were notified yesterday that a family member has tested positive for COVID. So this person I triaged is now sick.
As the shift continued, she had another case involving a host, like the three on Tuesday.
“Host was ill day before Thanksgiving, and held a family gathering for the holiday regardless,” she later reported. “The day after Thanksgiving, five who attended became ill. Today all five who became ill have positive results for COVID testing.”
In all the cases, the nurse provides what emotional support she can, along with medical care.
“You’re always having that heart-to-heart,” she said.
But the nurse now handles only COVID-19 cases, and the illness is too often preceded by inexplicable carelessness on the part of the patient.
“That is what I do all day, every day,” the nurse said.
The fight against the virus would be hard enough for her and her fellow medical workers if they received the full support of the powers that be.
“We certainly never signed up for a pandemic with no support from our government,” she said.
The Personal Protective Equipment situation has gotten better, but not to where it should be. She has triaged nurses who got sick after being forced to reuse PPE, in particular N95 masks. That despite expanded production facilities by 3M running 24 hours a day—including Thanksgiving.
But health-care workers would not have as much need for PPE if there were not so many COVID-19 patients. And there would not be so many patients if our elected leaders were more consistently supportive both in policy and by example when it comes to proven precautions. Any official who goes about without a mask is sending a dangerous message to members of the public.
“Such a poor model,” she said. “They see that and they think it’s safe to act that way.”
In the days immediately ahead, she sees a surge on top of a surge that could overwhelm the health-care system. We are only now entering the period when most of the Thanksgiving-related cases will appear.
As she proceeds to the next big holiday, one indicator confirms that the disconnection continues long after the election.
“Today, I’m beginning to see symptomatic patients who are preparing for Christmas planned family gatherings,” she said.