24 December 2020
A Christmas tree stands near the intensive care room of a COVID-19 patient. He lies unconscious, connected to a machine that breathes for him. A few feet away, a plastic snowman hangs near the room of another patient who is also on a ventilator.
The holiday decorations at East Alabama Medical Center "let family members know that we're trying, and we love these patients" said nurse Carla Fallin. "We want them to feel like it's Christmas as much as we can," she added.
Nurses and doctors who have spent months caring for sick people are doing what they can to get through the holiday season. They worry people will hold gatherings, travel and take part in other activities that could add to the current wave in COVID-19 cases.
Fallin has been a nurse for five years at the hospital in Opelika, Alabama. She says the decorations help lighten the mental load in the ICU. A sharp rise in infections linked to Thanksgiving gatherings is now filling up beds at the hospital. Vaccines are on the way, but not yet available to the general public. Hospital officials are worried about what might happen in January after holiday travel and celebrations are over.
When so many are suffering even a picture of a candy cane on an ICU window can help. Dr. Meshia Wallace is a lung doctor who works with patients in serious condition.
"Families come in, and all they're getting for the most part is bad news," she said. "A little bit of Christmas cheer is not going to hurt. It can only help."
Wallace is not attending her usual Christmas gathering of about 30 relatives. She hopes to spend the holiday with an aunt who might drive from Atlanta, Georgia, if neither of them shows signs of COVID-19.
Dr. Ricardo Maldonado leads the pandemic team at East Alabama. He knows exactly what he will do for the holiday.
"Work," Maldonado said after visiting patients on a hospital floor full of COVID-19 patients. "There is so much work."
The nonprofit hospital has had to add about 60 nurses to its workforce to meet the increased demand. But East Alabama Medical Center's chief, Laura Grill, said neighboring states continue to ask the hospital to take in some of their sick.
Some East Alabama employees got sick with COVID-19, Grill said. Others retired from their jobs or just left. Many, she said, are suffering physically and emotionally from extreme tiredness.
Nurse Marilynn Waldon has felt the strain. She cares for COVID-19 patients in an area that has been decorated with white lights and Christmas stockings. Waldon had planned to retire this month. But with the holidays nearing, she changed her mind.
She said, "I talked to God about it, and he said, ‘You're not a quitter. No...you need to stay there, do what you can, until we get over this crisis that we're in.'"
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Jay Reeves reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
unconscious –adj. not awake especially because of an injury, drug, sickness, etc.
decoration –n. an object that is added to a place or a thing that is meant to make it more pleasing
strain –n. a feeling of worry that is difficult to deal with
stocking –n. a decorative pouch shaped like a large sock that is used for holding gifts at Christmas
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