Christmas within the ICU: Decorations, lights and plenty of tears

OPELIKA, Ala. — A Christmas tree stands outdoors the intensive care room the place a person affected by COVID-19 lies unconscious, a machine breathes for him. A number of toes away, a plastic snowman adorns the door of one other affected person whose face is barely seen behind ventilator tubes.

The decorations are “a approach to let relations know that we’re attempting, and we love these sufferers and we would like them to really feel prefer it’s Christmas as a lot as we will,” nurse Carla Fallin stated, standing simply outdoors one of many rooms at East Alabama Medical Middle.

Nurses and medical workers make their method by way of the seventh flooring COVID-19 unit at East Alabama Medical Middle Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Opelika, Ala. COVID-19 sufferers occupy a lot of the beds in ICU along with the non-critical sufferers on the seventh flooring.  (AP Photograph/Julie Bennett)

Whereas parades, purchasing and Christmas tree lightings go on round them, nurses and medical doctors who’ve spent agonizing months caring for the unwell are doing what they’ll to get by way of the vacation season, which many concern will solely unfold the illness and add to the U.S. demise toll that has surpassed 300,000.

The medical middle about 60 miles northeast of Montgomery faces an inflow of COVID-19 sufferers because the pandemic intensifies. Meaning workers members can cling decorations on sufferers’ doorways within the ICU however can’t attend after-work Christmas events. A cheerful Santa doll stands atop the desk at a nursing station, however massive gatherings with family are out.


A nurse for 5 years, Fallin stated Christmas simply does not really feel proper this 12 months. She and her husband didn’t take their two younger sons to native Christmas occasions that drew tons of of individuals, many with out masks. The decorations within the ICU assist lighten the psychological load somewhat, she stated, if solely till one other affected person nears demise.

The red-brick hospital is close to Auburn College within the outdated railroad city of Opelika, a metropolis of 30,000 that embellished its streetlights and overpasses with inexperienced garlands and crimson ribbons for the season. An enormous Christmas tree stands close to downtown boutiques, salons and eating places the place tons of of residents crowded collectively for a vacation program final weekend.

East Alabama Medical Middle attracts sufferers from a principally rural area. Many individuals within the metropolis put on masks in compliance with a state order, however fewer well being precautions are seen in surrounding areas.

The world was an early sizzling spot for the virus within the spring. Then instances eased earlier than a summertime spike that well being officers blamed on yard cookouts and lake gatherings round July 4.


Simply as somewhere else throughout the nation, a surge in infections linked to Thanksgiving is now filling up beds on the hospital. With vaccines not but accessible to most of the people, hospital officers dread what would possibly occur in January after households board airplanes for the vacations and spend hours gathered round dinner tables or Christmas bushes.

Amid a lot struggling and after so many tears, any ray of brightness helps, even when it is only a sweet cane sticker on a ICU window, stated Dr. Meshia Wallace, a pulmonary doctor who works in essential care.

“Households are available in, and all they’re getting for essentially the most half is unhealthy information: ‘Your member of the family is sick, they’ve moved down from the seventh flooring to the ICU,'” she stated. “Somewhat little bit of Christmas cheer will not be going to harm. It might solely assist.”

Wallace is skipping her ordinary Christmas gathering of about 30 family and hopes to spend the vacation with an aunt who would possibly drive over from Atlanta if neither is symptomatic. Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, who leads the pandemic response staff at East Alabama, is aware of precisely what he’ll do for the vacation.

“Work,” Maldonado stated after visiting sufferers on a hospital flooring stuffed with COVID-19 sufferers. “There may be a lot work.”

The nonprofit hospital has had to usher in almost 60 touring nurses to shore up staffing that has been depleted, but requests to tackle extra COVID-19 sufferers nonetheless are available in most days from neighboring states, together with Mississippi and Tennessee, stated chief government Laura Grill.


Some employees have been sickened by the virus, she stated, and others retired or stop. Many, she stated, are merely exhausted, each bodily and emotionally, and the Christmas season is not making issues simpler.

“I sat in a gathering two days in the past with the nurse supervisor of our ICU and he or she simply cried. She stated, ‘We don’t know what else to do. We are able to take a look at this affected person and know that they don’t seem to be going to get higher,'” Grill stated.

Marilynn Waldon has felt the pressure.

The veteran nurse oversees COVID-19 sufferers on a flooring that has been embellished for Christmas with strings of white lights and stockings. Waldon had deliberate to retire this month however with the vacations approaching, she prayed and adjusted her thoughts.

“I talked to God about it, and he stated, ‘You’re not a quitter. No. These sufferers obtained to be taken care of, and that is why you went to nursing college. So you want to keep there, do what you are able to do, till we recover from this disaster that we’re in,'” Waldon stated.

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