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ICU Travel Nurse On Her Work During The Pandemic's Deadliest Days

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

COVID-19 has killed more than 23,000 people in the U.S. just this past week alone. Put another way, someone dies in America every 30 seconds from COVID. One person who has seen this terrible human toll firsthand is Lydia Mobley. When we caught up with her in November, she had just started working as an ICU travel nurse in Michigan. She said her co-workers were already burned out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LYDIA MOBLEY: We've just been trying to survive - like, keep the patients alive and keep ourselves alive.

CHANG: Now in the pandemic's deadliest days, we wanted to check back in with her to see how she and her fellow health care workers are doing.

Lydia Mobley, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MOBLEY: Thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: So how do things look now, I mean, compared to the last time we talked to you - what? - two months ago?

MOBLEY: Things are worse - a lot more COVID patients, a lot more deaths. The ICU has expanded as much as hospital has been able. It's been very hard.

CHANG: Well, the last time that you were on our show, you mentioned that there was a lot of regret some of your patients were expressing after they got sick that - you know, that they didn't think at the time COVID was real until they got sick or they wish that they had worn their masks. Have attitudes seemed to change in your community two months since?

MOBLEY: Unfortunately not. And that's probably why, I think, things have gotten worse - because there are still a lot of people who don't think it's real or don't take it seriously or don't wear their masks. And it's really hard that that's where we are now because we're almost a year into this pandemic, and people still don't want to take proper precautions.

CHANG: What does that feel like to you personally? I mean, as someone who's working very hard to take care of people who are getting sick, how does it feel to watch people not wear masks in public?

MOBLEY: It's really a slap in the face, to be honest, because, you know, we see these commercials - thank you, health care heroes - or see these billboards. And then, you know, you go to the grocery store or the gas station when you have to, and you see people not wearing masks. And then you go to work, and you watch people die. And it's just hard because I think if the public really wants to thank us that they will start taking things seriously and just start wearing their masks and start social distancing.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, how are you holding up personally? I understand that you haven't gotten many nights off since you started.

MOBLEY: It's a struggle for sure. It's a huge struggle. And I do a lot of praying, but I also cry a lot, and I try not to think about it as much as I can. I don't know very many ways that people would know how to cope with as much death as we see. But it's hard. It's very difficult.

CHANG: Well, I know that you just got your second dose of the vaccine this week. Has that helped in some way reframe where things are going looking forward, that maybe things are going to be turning around? Does it feel more hopeful?

MOBLEY: I'm going to be honest. When I got my first dose, I was extremely hopeful. The energy in the line and the energy in the room was just great because everybody felt truly hopeful that, hey, maybe there is an end in sight - but then to watch how the vaccine rollout seems to have just been really poorly managed. And you hear about these doses that are being thrown away or sitting in warehouses and not getting into people's arms. And honestly, by the time of my second vaccine, I felt a lot less hope because, yes, I have my doses, but none of my family or friends have theirs yet. And it's scary for me, and it's very frustrating. And it makes me mad that we have all these doses. We should be a lot farther ahead of where we are, and we're not.

CHANG: Lydia Mobley is a travel ICU nurse with Fastaff.

Thank you for all that you are doing, and thank you for joining us today.

MOBLEY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.