TAMPA, Fla. — Nearly 16 months of fighting COVID-19, nurses in hospitals across the state are back in the fire.
"Today, I decided to bring a lot of love and gratitude to my teammates, because, honestly, it's been like, we're in a mass casualty disaster every single shift," ER nurse Candice Hughley said taking a break during her shift.
Shifts these days are 12 hours or longer. Hour by hour Hughley checks in patients that are positive for COVID or are suspected to have the virus and show symptoms.
"I'm halfway through my shift and this is probably the 14th patient, either positive for COVID or with COVID symptoms. We're drowning. We're drowning emotionally, we're drowning physically, we're drowning in every possible way a human being could be drowning right now," Hughley said.
Her stand-alone ER in Brandon is seeing the number of COVID-19 patients rise every day. Hughley says 80-85 percent of the patients there are coming in to be treated for the virus. Over 90 percent of them haven't been vaccinated.
"That is what is surprising us the most is that all these patients are unvaccinated and they're begging for a vaccine on their deathbed while it's available to people," Hughley said.
The highly contagious Delta variant is driving people to the hospital, making it so most patients can't breathe. Every day Candice says her thoughts while she's at the hospital are the same.
"Am I going to be able to do everything possible to return my patient to their family? It's terrifying," Hughley said.
The harsh reality is when she can't. A young patient that didn't come in for COVID-19 went into cardiac arrest in front of her. Even though they worked on him for hours, they couldn't save him. After his test results came back, they found out he was positive.
Family and her team help Candice get through each shift while they wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I guess it's the closest thing to being a soldier. I don't know what it's like to be a soldier. My message to the community is to understand that this is the largest mass casualty humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. We need your help. If it's getting tested, getting vaccinated, wearing a mask. We need every human being to think about what they can do for themselves and what they can do for their community right now," Hughley said.