‘We’re at the worst, we’re seeing the worst of it now’: Knoxville ICU nurses share frontline insights

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Exhaustion and frustration. People, not numbers. This is how two frontline healthcare workers in Knoxville begin to describe the last 10 months.

They are nurses in the Critical Care Unit at Parkwest Medical Center. They have many answers to the question, “How are you feeling?”

“I know that a lot of us are really frustrated that we’re still at this point. And even though we’re almost 10 months into this, that we’re at the worst, we’re seeing the worst of it now. Nothing is getting better. I feel like a lot of the general public still doesn’t take this seriously,” said Savannah Faulkenberry, she works the day shift in the ICU.

Faulkenberry and Rachael Kilbourn are two on the team of nurses. They work 12-hour shifts, and during the course of the pandemic, those shifts have become filled with patients positive for COVID-19.

“The most basic thing we do is breathe. And despite our very best efforts, we fail and they fail and we’re with them from the time they get to our door until either they leave or they don’t,” Kilbourn said.

They rely on the support of each other and their team in the ICU to get through the tough days, that lately, are more often than before.

“Trying to do the absolute impossible and then come out of that room and do it again and coming back the next day and the next week and doing it again and having to be present every single time, because that’s what’s right. And that’s what that patient needs and that’s what that family needs us to be doing,” Kilbourn said.

These nurses have held the hands of patients who were too sick to breathe; they’ve made phone calls to family members with news they hoped would never come; they remember their patients by name and celebrate, what they call, “miracles.”

“We also, though, remember the miracles that have happened so suddenly. There’s a whole lot fewer of those. But we remember them by name and we talk about them months down the road because it’s one of the only things that helps us get by is those few memories of the miracles. And our hard work actually did pay off for these people,” Faulkenberry said.

‘It’s not safe to be in large areas without a mask on’

They’ve been asked, as they were in this interview with WATE 6 On Your Side, “How can the community help?”

The answer, for Faulkenberry and Kilbourn the way to help their team, and other frontline workers, lies in the five core actions set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Knox County Health Department.

“And the general public, I wish, just would understand that it’s not safe. It’s not safe to be in large areas without mask on. It’s really not safe to be in large areas right now with mask on if you’re not properly socially distancing,” Kilbourn said.

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