'Stressful,' 'crazy,' 'difficult': Triangle doctors, nurses talk about how COVID-19 has changed their lives

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- With the number of COVID-19 patients growing in the Triangle, emergency room doctors and nurses are adjusting to a new reality.

"It's a really crazy time, obviously, for everyone," said Dr. Brian Burrows, Duke Regional Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director.

"It has been a stressful time," said Dr. Abhi Mehrotra, UNC Department of Emergency Medicine Vice Chair of Operations. "Absolutely. Everyone's under stress. There's a lot of work. There's a lot of uncertainty."

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"It's a new time for us, wearing PPE constantly and just being able to adjust to that," said nurse Brittany Komansky, WakeMed Raleigh Campus Director of Emergency Services.

These health care providers shared their experiences during this pandemic with ABC11, such as how painful it is seeing COVID-19 patients without loved ones to comfort them because of restrictions.

"They're literally saying goodbye to them as we're wheeling them upstairs to an in-patient room out of the emergency department," Dr. Burrows said. "It's not goodbye for forever. Sometimes it has to feel that way to them. That's, in my eyes, the hardest part."

"As a caregiver and you think of yourself as a healer, human touch is an important part of that," Dr. Mehrotra said. "Limiting that can sometimes be difficult."

Triangle hospitals are reporting a decrease in the number of non-coronavirus patients going to emergency rooms.

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"I think all of the emergency departments in the Triangle are feeling the same way," Komansky said. "Just our volume, in general, has decreased significantly."

"The question is what's the cause," Dr. Abhi Mehrotra said. "Is it just patients staying home, being afraid of coming to the Emergency Department? I can tell you we have done everything we can to be safe."

A spokesman for UNC Health said with more people staying home, there are also less incidents such as car accidents and workplace injuries.

A spokeswoman for WakeMed Health & Hospitals said emergency departments are open and not to delay care if you need it. She said hospitals in the Triangle are safe and continue to triage patients with respiratory illness/symptoms to other areas so they are separated from non-coronavirus patients who need care in emergency departments.

The health care providers we talked to say they're taking extra precautions to protect their loved ones.

"Going into the hospital, figuring out how we're going to home and not bring the disease back home to our family members and our loved ones," Dr. Mehrotra said.

The wife and four children of Dr. Burrows are in the mountains while he treats patients.

"We thank everyone, obviously the front line staff," Dr. Burrows said. "But really our families are the ones that are really bearing the tough times for us right now. My wife is a single mom right now taking care of our kiddos. I love her a ton."

Komansky's husband is a Wake County EMS paramedic.

"We have a 2-year-old son," Komansky said. "It's just making sure that we're taking all those preventative measures when we get home because we have to still take care of him and make sure that we're healthy. Stripping down our clothes, taking a shower before doing those interactions. Just the personal adjustment is the hardest."

Through the stresses, the health care providers are motivated by their passion for healing and commitment to the community.

"Personally It's been a challenge but something that we're trained to deal with and are proud to be able to help our communities," Dr. Mehrotra said.

And when there's time, they're finding ways to lighten the mood.

Komansky and her fellow nurses made a video while they were dancing in their scrubs.

"Whenever we have a moment and a break, just taking time for each other, making sure we're supporting each other," she said.
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