'Remember the anguish on her face:' Aurora COVID-19 unit nurse's post goes viral
Carol Williams took off her N95 mask and showed her reality.
Her face was marked with creases and red blotches from the mask she wears to protect her patients, her four kids and herself.
The nurse at Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora took a selfie of the defeated look in her eyes, the exhaustion, the frustration at the complacency she still sees outside hospital walls.
Williams shared the photo and her own soul-baring words in a now viral post. For months, she thought about what she wanted to say.
"I've been kind of sitting on those words," Williams said Friday.
But the words spilled out after five hours working to save a COVID-19 patient in the hospital's intensive care unit.
Williams spoke to the people who downplay the pandemic and don't believe hospitals are being overrun. She spoke to those who avert their gaze from the tragedies. She spoke to the incomprehensible toll of caring for patients in their final moments over and over again.
"The inability to save a patient despite doing everything you can is mentally exhausting. Now imagine doing that on repeat for 8 months and counting," she wrote. "Imagine watching a patient suffocating thru a door while scrambling to get your ppe on because they inadvertently removed the mask they desperately need to breathe but you still need to protect yourself first."
Her post has struck an emotional chord, gaining more than 1,300 likes. Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, a COVID-19 survivor himself, read it during a city council meeting this week as the state's second-largest city reached the grim milestone of 10,000 COVID-19 cases and 155 deaths.
When he finished, Irvin had to pause to compose himself. Alderman Scheketa Hart-Burns wiped away tears.
"Remember her words. Remember the anguish on her face and in her eyes," Irvin said. "Remember the look of exhaustion and recognize what we have to do for our family, for our friends, for our neighbors and our community."
Williams felt compelled to share her voice as health care workers across the country face burnout while a new wave of infections is surging out of control.
"I was just triggered just overhearing a couple people at the store talking about that masks are dumb," Williams said.
She started crying when a friend sent her the city of Aurora's video on her post. In that moment, she said she felt what every health care provider is feeling right now nine months into a pandemic they fear will only get worse this winter.
"I am so thankful that somebody is listening," Williams said.
Her hospital has dealt with an onslaught of patients in recent weeks. As of Friday, Rush Copley was treating 71 patients for the virus.
In the beginning of the pandemic, Williams was picking up a lot of extra shifts, but scaled that back "a little bit" for her own mental health.
"There's just a piece of connection and humanity that comes along with nursing that is missing right now because there's so much isolation," she said. "There's so much worry on the patient end.
"When a patient is struggling, and they're seeing you, and you're trying to get in there, but you have to get all your stuff on, just the fear, the feeling of aloneness. 'What if somebody's not there?' What if somebody doesn't hear me?' This is what's really happening across the country. We just all need to come together."
Outside of work, the Plainfield mom and her husband, a paramedic, try to give their kids "whatever kind of normalcy" they can.
"I don't want to end up like one of my patients, and that I know is a reality of this disease," Williams said. "There's been plenty of patients that we've cared for that are younger than me, that are healthy like me."
So she's pleading that everyone take the virus seriously. Imagine, she wrote, what it's really like to be a dying COVID-19 patient using "all your energy just to breathe."
"Imagine being the nurse or doctor holding that same patient's hand and stroking their head weeks later while their ventilator is removed because they haven't improved and their family then says goodbyes and 'I love yous' over FaceTime while they take their last breath."