A nurse's plea: Help us fight this war

The pandemic is not political

click to enlarge Carly Hinkle
Carly Hinkle

Carleen Hinkle worked as a registered nurse at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield for 22 years, including many years in the intensive care unit and two years as a CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care unit) nurse manager. She left MMC and worked as a travel nurse in Chicago from April to July 2020 in the beginning stages of the pandemic to help care for COVID-19 patients. She returned to her home in Springfield and joined SIU School of Medicine as a pediatric clinic nurse. She is also currently an intensive care nurse at HSHS St. John's Hospital. She writes:

COVID-19 does not care who you are, what you do, where you come from.

I began fighting COVID from the beginning. In April 2020 I left my family in Springfield for 13 weeks to work in Chicago at a COVID intensive care unit to help my fellow nurses fight this deadly virus. It is like nothing I have ever gone through, and I had experienced 2009 H1N1 flu. Trust me when I say COVID is real. I saw death and fear in my patients and their families. When I arrived in Chicago, I saw a city on its knees. Everyone was scared.

When I started in the COVID ICU, I did not know what was in store for me. It was the beginning of a long journey of self-resilience, anger, fright and perseverance. I immediately started taking care of extremely sick patients who came to the hospital in droves. We converted rooms to negative air flow, putting two people in one room. It was overwhelming and heartbreaking. We didn't have time to process what was happening.

Nurses were becoming sick and exposed. I got scared, called my family and decided I could not come home and risk the safety of my loved ones. I told my family to stay home and wear masks. My family feared the possibility of me getting exposed to this unforgivable virus. I was thinking of the safety of those I loved. Funny how nurses think of others before themselves.

I saw patients struggle for air and fight to live. I saw the fear in their eyes thinking this was their last breath. I saw moms and dads dying together because their adult children brought it home to them. I will never forget Zoom calls with patients and their loved ones wanting to hold each other's hands. It was somber and lonely to watch as they took their last breath. I cannot get these images out of my head.

The worst part was putting these loved ones in big, black body bags. I feared they might wake up. I listened again and again for heartbeats to make sure. There were none. They were gone and now zipped in a bag and placed in the morgue or a refrigerated truck. Can you imagine your loved one in a truck? Neither can I, but it's still happening.

The haunting images of struggling, intubated and prone patients, families on Zoom, the fear of running out of PPE and so much death has forever changed me. I can no longer go back to being the person I once was. I was strong. I was fierce. Now I can't sleep. I have anxiety in crowds. I get angry when people talk about COVID being fake or no big deal. If you had seen what I have, you would eat those words and choke on them. This is no joke.

I write this now because once again I am angry. Unfortunately, I was exposed to COVID and recently got sick. I don't know when, how or by whom. Was it someone who refused to wear a mask or chose not to get vaccinated? Health care and science gave the public a tool to fight this virus. Yet the public chooses to ignore it. Why? Because my body, my choice? Do you know how stupid that sounds? You trusted me to take care of you and your loved ones. I gave it my all....my mind, my body and my soul.

We wanted to end this suffering. We wanted a break from death. As a nurse, it hurts more than anything to think the public doesn't care. I am positive I did everything right. I bought my own PPE, wore my mask and followed the rules. I was fully vaccinated to protect my family, my friends, the people I love, my community and my patients. Still, it got me. I became sick and sicker as the days went on.

I was lucky I had my vaccine to help my body fight for its life. I fought hard but still got sick. I can no longer taste and smell, but I recovered. I beat COVID because of my vaccine. I quarantined and wore a mask in my own home if I left my room. I stayed away from my family for the second time during this pandemic. Only this time, I was alone with my PTSD, my anxiety, my depression and my anger. I was alone with my family on the other side of my quarantined door. The only positive was my family remained negative. My vaccine, mask, constant handwashing and cleaning helped save my family from getting sick.

Why can you not see us? Why can you not understand this is real? It will eventually come to you. Why would you want this? Why would you want your child or someone else you love to get this? Health care professionals are begging you to get vaccinated and wear a mask. Help us fight this war and not let another wife, mother, father, brother, sister, daughter or son die because you think we are infringing on your rights. This is not political. This is a public health emergency. We nurses and physicians are tired. We need you to help us. It is time to end this.

Carly Hinkle of Springfield, RN, BSN, MPH, CVRN-BC, wife, mother, nurse, Rotarian, ER Abroad.

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for more than 40 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Now more than ever, we’re asking for your support to continue providing our community with real news that everyone can access, free of charge.

We’re also offering a home delivery option as an added convenience for friends of the paper.

Click here to subscribe, or simply show your support for Illinois Times.

Got something to say?
Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Comments (4)

Add a comment

Add a Comment
  • "Voices and Votes"

    @ Jacksonville Area Museum

    Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22