ICU health care workers comfort patients, cope with trauma


As the pandemic has ravaged the United States, frontline health care workers have remained resilient in helping the sick and dying. But it has taken a toll.

To prevent the virus from spreading further, families haven’t been allowed to visit loved ones in the hospital. Medical workers across the United States — first responders, nurses, doctors, social and spiritual support specialists — have tried to bridge the gap by connecting families with phone and video calls. 

USA TODAY’s Harrison Hill and Sandy Hooper take you into Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California, a community in northwestern Los Angeles, as the hospital staff battle the pandemic.

While some of the following scenes may be difficult to witness, they show the harsh reality faced every day by health care workers across the country. 

A registered nurse checks on a patient on the COVID floor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.

A registered nurse checks on a patient on the COVID floor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

Julie Medeiros, respiratory therapist
“Sometimes all you can do is brush and braid someone’s hair, and if I have time I try to do it.”

Etelvina Dominguez, 78, loved pro wrestling and tending to the family garden. “Vina,” as her family called her, was hospitalized with COVID-19 and put on life support. The day before her death, only her husband and eldest son could be there as the rest of the Dominguez family said their goodbyes over a video call.

Lorenzo Dominguez Jr., 54, Etelvina’s eldest son
“I hear about it, I see it on the news, and it doesn’t really hit you until it hits home — and it definitely hit home.”

Lorenzo Dominguez Jr. prays for his mother, Etelvina Dominguez, during his visit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center on Feb. 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. Dominguez and his father, Lorenzo Dominguez Sr., right, were the only family members allowed into the hospital. Members of the Dominguez family talk to Etelvina, 78, through a smartphone.
Lorenzo Dominguez Jr. prays for his mother, Etelvina Dominguez, during his visit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center on Feb. 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. Dominguez and his father, Lorenzo Dominguez Sr., right, were the only family members allowed into the hospital. Members of the Dominguez family talk to Etelvina, 78, through a smartphone.
Lorenzo Dominguez Jr. prays for his mother, Etelvina Dominguez, during his visit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center on Feb. 12, 2021, in Los Angeles. Dominguez and his father, Lorenzo Dominguez Sr., right, were the only family members allowed into the hospital. Members of the Dominguez family talk to Etelvina, 78, through a smartphone.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY
Julie Medeiros, respiratory therapist
“I think we’re all hanging in there. We [have] worked so many hours, so many extra hours and seen more death than anyone should ever have to see.”

Respiratory therapist Julie Medeiros, center, and intensive care nurses prepare to

Respiratory therapist Julie Medeiros, center, and intensive care nurses prepare to “prone” a patient on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. ICU nurses prone, or flip, a patient on their stomach or back every two hours to allow better expansion of the lungs, ultimately leading to improved oxygenation of the blood. “We’re doing this a lot,” Medeiros says. “You need a number of people to help turn patients.”
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

A patient lies on their stomach in the intensive care unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

A patient lies on their stomach in the intensive care unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

A nurse cleans a patient’s mouth inside the intensive care unit. Travel nurse Thu Nguyen catches her breath inside the ICU unit. Nurses are required to wear PPE for hours at a time while working with patients, sometimes causing bruises or scars around their eyes and nose.
A nurse cleans a patient’s mouth inside the intensive care unit. Travel nurse Thu Nguyen catches her breath inside the ICU unit. Nurses are required to wear PPE for hours at a time while working with patients, sometimes causing bruises or scars around their eyes and nose.
A nurse cleans a patient’s mouth inside the intensive care unit. Travel nurse Thu Nguyen catches her breath inside the ICU unit. Nurses are required to wear PPE for hours at a time while working with patients, sometimes causing bruises or scars around their eyes and nose.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

Dr. Marwa Kilani is a palliative care doctor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. Her specialization aims to provide “patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness, no matter the diagnosis or stage of disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic

Dr. Marwa Kilani, a hospice and palliative medicine specialist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, does a video call with a patient's daughter on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. She is responsible for updating families on her patients' conditions because no visitors are allowed during the pandemic. "It's traumatic to hear families on the other end, tearful and crying," Kilani said. "COVID is a whole different beast and we've had to jump in and move forward as best we can."

Dr. Marwa Kilani, a hospice and palliative medicine specialist at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, does a video call with a patient’s daughter on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. She is responsible for updating families on her patients’ conditions because no visitors are allowed during the pandemic. “It’s traumatic to hear families on the other end, tearful and crying,” Kilani said. “COVID is a whole different beast and we’ve had to jump in and move forward as best we can.”
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

The sun beams across medical supplies in an intensive care room on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The sun beams across medical supplies in an intensive care room on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

Chaplain Kevin Deegan spends his days checking on the health and well-being of patients and staff at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. Chaplains

Chaplain Kevin Deegan spends his days checking on the health and well-being of patients and staff at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. Chaplains “are well-integrated into the life of the hospital,” Deegan said. “As a chaplain, it’s my job to offer emotional and spiritual support, to be a compassionate presence, to be a supportive presence.”
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

Chaplain Kevin Deegan prays with a patient on the COVID floor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.

Chaplain Kevin Deegan prays with a patient on the COVID floor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. “I never expected to become an expert in offering care during a pandemic,” Deegan said. “I find myself becoming more vulnerable; I’m more compassionate.”
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

Chaplain Kevin Deegan holds a patient's hand while praying with her on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, on the COVID floor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. "I'll never be afraid of donning PPE to go and sit and hold the patient's hand, to brush their hair with my hand, to lay my hands on them and pray with them," Deegan said. "Fear is not a part of the care that I'm offering anymore."

Chaplain Kevin Deegan holds a patient’s hand while praying with her on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, on the COVID floor at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I’ll never be afraid of donning PPE to go and sit and hold the patient’s hand, to brush their hair with my hand, to lay my hands on them and pray with them,” Deegan said. “Fear is not a part of the care that I’m offering anymore.”
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

Kevin Deegan, chaplain at Providence Holy Cross
“There are those moments of strength, those times where we find ourselves digging down deep to reservoirs of strength that we didn’t know we had.”

Each day at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Chaplin Kevin Deegan passes through a hallway filled with glass windows to get to the COVID unit, as he does pictured on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Outside the windows is a message thanking hospital staff for their work.

Each day at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, Chaplin Kevin Deegan passes through a hallway filled with glass windows to get to the COVID unit, as he does pictured on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Outside the windows is a message thanking hospital staff for their work.
Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

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