'Still Here' But Exhausted: A Kansas City Nurse's Coronavirus Pandemic Diary
Emergency room nurse Sarimar Gascot says her line of work means she sees death all the time. But a year into the pandemic, she hasn’t gotten used to the feeling of watching a patient die from the coronavirus.
It’s hard to faze Sarimar Gascot.
The 26-year-old nurse has spent the last three years working in the emergency room at Truman Medical Centers. Being an ER nurse means she sees just about everything. She clocks in for her 12-hour shift at 7 p.m. and gets home as the city wakes up. Sometimes her feet ache so much that when she’s driving home it hurts to put her foot on the gas pedal.
Gascot is calm through the chaos — there simply isn’t time for processing emotions at work. She can count the number of times she’s broken down in the ER after a particularly tough day.
But a year of watching patients die from the coronavirus and seeing strangers refusing to put on a mask has weighed heavily on the typically “hyper” and cheerful nurse. And like so many Kansas City residents, she’s struggling with a deep sense of loneliness. Getting vaccinated has allowed her to visit friends and her family in Puerto Rico. While she treasures those moments, they also remind her of what she’s missed in a year marked by isolation and distance.
New coronavirus hospitalizations are now trending down, but the work isn’t over for Gascot. Over the past six weeks, she chronicled her job in the ER for KCUR. Her diary entries give a peek inside the joys and heartbreak of a career caring for others. The entries have been edited for length and clarity.
This whole pandemic mainly started [in] March. January is about to end, and we're still here. For those who thought that it was only going to be two weeks, just a few months, that things were going to go back to how they used to be — we're still here.
The end of the shift was great. I felt appreciated. I don't know how I was doing so many things at the same time. I looked like an octopus; I had eight arms. I was doing all of it… It reminded me of why I love my job, why I love being a nurse, why I love helping people, saving people's lives.
Today's my mom's birthday, actually. However, my parents don't live in Kansas City. So it's kind of hard always spending birthdays apart. But it's harder because she is in the hospital. She had surgery done on Feb. 1. However, she was struggling a little bit with her recovery, but she's doing so much better today, so that's good. It's hard taking care of people, knowing that your own family needs care.
Unfortunately, we had a lot of sick people that were just not the nicest to their nursing staff. It's hard dealing with that because you have to maintain a good attitude — still be courteous, professional.
I just finished my fourth shift out of five, all in a row… I just want to go home and not talk to anyone… That's my way of recharging [after] work. I lock myself in a room, and I watch TV and relax. And I have some pizza rolls and some hot chocolate.
I will be going home on Thursday, and that is Puerto Rico. I'll be going home mainly to take care of my mom… I love taking care of other people but there's nothing like taking care of your family and I’m very excited to do it… Of course, there's a little concern about the whole flying thing… I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
As much as I'm excited to be home and I feel at peace, yesterday was a little rough on the plane. A lot of people were very disrespectful in regards to not wearing their masks. They had to be constantly reminded to put their mask on even while on the plane. Like, come on, you're an adult. Do you really need the constant reminder to keep your mask on? It just felt like a slap on the face because healthcare workers and essential workers, we're all out there risking our lives, taking care of people with COVID. And all that work for what? We’re risking everything for what? For people that don’t care about you.
I'm getting a little upset already because my whole family lives out here in Puerto Rico. And just going back to Kansas City, being alone — at some point, you get used to the feeling. This whole pandemic has made me really value family and distance. I'm just a little sad. I'm going to spend time with the family today, appreciate the time that I have with them.
I'm so excited to go to work today. I kind of miss going to work. I miss just being with my coworkers, being at work, being able to help people.
I feel like a bus ran over me. Not just once, not just twice. Way too many times. Like I’m on the street laying down and a bus just goes over me, and reverse and goes over me… That's how my body feels right now. I'm exhausted.
We're seeing a lot of people that had COVID and they're in the ER for post-COVID complications… A lot of people that had COVID two, three months ago. And then now they're having extreme shortness of breath, having clots in their lungs, worsening their pre-existing conditions.
I'm just tired of COVID and post-COVID complications and people expecting that the ER has the vaccine and that we have it available for everyone, which we clearly don't.
I have a wedding this weekend. It's one of my childhood friends. She's getting married in Tampa. So I got to go fly out of Tampa, be there for her. I'm very excited for it. That's what I'm looking forward [to] at the end of this week.
On March 6, it was my friend's wedding. It was amazing… Being at the wedding felt like I was back home again. And I'm just very homesick right now. It's very frustrating when other people don't appreciate having family so close by or that they can drive at least a few hours just to see them — even through a window. I can't even do that. I wish I could teleport. So today was kind of rough at work. People are talking about their families or they come to the ER with their families. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, “Well, if I were in a car accident, would they even know? If I were to get COVID and I get super sick would they know?”
I finished my shifts for the week. I feel a little better… I am just hoping that everything goes back to normal. But we can't go back to normal if we don't work to getting back to normal. You got to wear a mask, you’ve got to social distance… People tell me at work, “I work in the health care system, I should be used to be wearing a mask.” No, not for 12 hours. I'm not used to wearing two masks for 12 hours. I was not trained for that. I'm going through this with everybody else.
So much has happened in the last year… I remember those first few cases. People were scared to come to the ER. And whenever they would come, they would be basically just gasping for air… I remember this patient that we worked on him three different times and he ended up passing away. And that happened so much… A year later, it's not that you get used to the feeling — it’s that you got to keep doing the job.
Sarimar Gascot recorded this radio diary for KCUR over the course of six weeks. KCUR reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman produced and edited the audio and adapted it for the web.