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The world stopped. They didn’t


Victoria Vergara Wocasek

Respiratory therapist
Rotary Club of Des Moines and Normandy Park, Washington

I was in the Philippines visiting one of my Rotary club’s water projects when the coronavirus first hit. I was traveling in remote areas and not really watching the news. I started to notice people wearing masks, and by the time we got to Manila, I realized the severity of it.

“For the month of March, I was just in survival mode. I was working 50 to 60 hours a week. We all just buckled up and did our best. But it was very scary.”

When I got back to the United States on 10 February, most people were saying, “It’s not here yet.” I went back to work, and we were going to get trained in several weeks on how to properly don and doff PPE [personal protective equipment]. But the day before the training, we had a patient who met the criteria to be tested for COVID-19, even though he hadn’t traveled outside the United States. I took care of him that morning on my first rounds. By the second rounds, the critical care physician told me to put a mask on because the patient was being tested for the coronavirus. That’s when it started to get real.

For the month of March, I was just in survival mode. I was working 50 to 60 hours a week. We all just buckled up and did our best. But it was very scary. I would come home crying. March was overwhelming, with the number of people dying. The intensive care unit felt like a war zone. We were seeing DNR [do not resuscitate] and DNI [do not intubate] orders written on windows for the person inside the room.

I remember one patient who was critically ill. She was on maximum support and maximum drugs. She was on the highest setting on the ventilator. Her story was so sad. She had lost several family members to the coronavirus. I took care of her one day, and when I came back the next day, she was gone. She was young — under 60 — and she had a DNR posted on her door.

One of the worst parts was the toll it took on my co-workers. People started not to look like themselves. Everyone’s tired and exhausted. We dealt with death and the critically ill before the coronavirus, but with this, it’s just so much. Now I think we are getting used to it. It’s just what we do.

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• This story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.