Exhausted COVID-19 nurse’s viral photo shows what it’s like ‘staring down a tsunami’

Kathryn Ivey graduated nursing school in the middle of a pandemic.

Four months into working in the intensive care unit and attending to COVID-19 patients at a Nashville hospital, she posted on Twitter about her experience. The Nov. 22 post includes two photos of her — one fresh-faced in March, shortly before graduating, with the caption “how it started.” The second was her after a 12-hour night shift. She had tired eyes, disheveled hair and marks on her face from the personal protective equipment she wears for work. It’s captioned “how it’s going.”

While the tweet was a lighthearted take on a Twitter trend, it was also a snapshot of a much darker reality. It struck a chord. As of Thursday, her post had received nearly a million likes. “I love being a nurse,” Ivey, who is 28, wrote in the post. “Didn’t exactly expect to be a new nurse in the middle of a highly politicized pandemic but life comes at you fast and even in a pandemic, there’s nothing else I want to do. Caring for the sickest of the sick is an honor, and I treasure my patients.” Ivey, who did not disclose which hospital she works at, said she graduated in May and has been working full-time since July. Shaking off the dust on Wednesday afternoon from three 12-hour shifts in a row, she told The Tennessean more about her first months as a nurse.

‘Staring down a tsunami’
As Ivey finished her last few classes and worked as an intern at another hospital this spring, she and her classmates felt the weight of the pandemic bearing down on them. “It was very surreal. It felt like we were staring down a tsunami,” she said. But she said her goal in life was always to help people, which is why she shifted gears at age 24 to start nursing school. She had previously earned a political science degree but felt like she was at a dead end.

As it became evident that COVID-19 would change everything about the field Ivey was about to enter, she was scared — but also inspired to dig in even more. “I have never wanted to be at work more,” she said.

She said she rotates into the COVID-19 unit several times a month. On Wednesday, she finished two straight weeks of three-days-on, one-day-off overnight shifts.

Ivey said she’s exhausted by the intensity of her work as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continuously break records in Tennessee and nationwide — but she also said she is not as fatigued as her colleagues who also worked during another surge this spring.

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