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An ICU Nurse's "How It Started Vs. How It's Going" Meme Is Going Viral For Showing What Healthcare Workers Are Dealing With During COVID-19

"I wouldn't wish the worst of it on my worst enemy."

Kathryn is a 28-year-old ICU nurse who graduated from nursing school in May. She told BuzzFeed that although working as a nurse is always unpredictable, it's even more so during the pandemic. "Some shifts are eerily slow and quiet, while others are 12-plus hours of all-out chaos."

Part of that unpredictability is the physical toll that caring for COVID-19 patients takes on healthcare workers, which Kathryn decided to prove on Twitter. Last week, she shared her own version of the "How It Started vs. How It's Going" meme that's been going around Twitter, and it immediately went viral, with thousands of retweets and nearly a million likes.

"I love being a nurse," Kathryn wrote in the thread attached to the tweet. "Didn't exactly expect to be a new nurse in the middle of a highly politicized pandemic but life comes at you fast and even in a pandemic, there's nothing else I want to do. Caring for the sickest of the sick is an honor and I treasure my patients."

Kathryn smiling for a professional photo in a pressed, white shirt with natural makeup and her hair done.

She continued, "It is devastating to watch people die when those deaths were avoidable and it's even more devastating when you watch them die the same way, time after time after time. It's devastating that basic common sense and decency has been politicized."

Kathryn looking at the camera in rumpled scrubs with large bags under her eyes, grooves in her face from wearing PPE, and sweaty hair sticking straight up from her head.

Kathryn added, "[COVID] is a brutal disease and I wouldn't wish the worst of it on my worst enemy. Please understand that you aren't just protecting yourself, you are protecting the people around you."

Kathryn told BuzzFeed the story behind her "How It's Going" photo: "I had just come out of a COVID room after being in there for quite a while, and I was struck by how exhausted I looked. I was drenched in sweat, my hair sticking straight up from the mask and face shield. The grooves left by the PPE on my face were deep and red, and I remember thinking that the reality of being a nurse was nothing like the ideas people seem to have of nurses in their heads, of cleanly pressed scrubs or white uniforms."

She continued, "I just wanted people to see what it's really like to take care of the patients that are at the heart of the pandemic that has somehow become a political flashpoint. My patients deserve better than this. They aren't political pawns or numbers or a lie or a hoax, they are people with families and homes and pets and jobs just like you, and they are not expendable. Their lives and their health — because survival does not mean recovery — are not a fair trade so that the rest of us don't have to be inconvenienced. They deserve better. We all deserve better than how the response to this pandemic has been handled."

Tons of people flooded Kathryn's replies to show their support, and fellow healthcare workers even began sharing their own "How It Started vs. How It's Going" photos in solidarity to prove, once again, that COVID-19 is not a joke.

Kathryn told BuzzFeed, "The response has been overwhelming. I'm touched to the bottom of my heart by all those who have expressed their thanks and gratitude for healthcare workers. Many people also told me that they were staying indoors, wearing masks, and canceling plans to try and limit the spread of the virus, and that meant more to me than I could possibly say."

@kathryniveyy How it started —> how it is now

She added, "Then there are my fellow healthcare workers who shared photos and stories mirroring mine, showing how deeply this impacts all of us. Not a single healthcare worker will arrive on the other side of this pandemic unscathed, and already we are starting to recognize in each other a certain look you get after long enough in the unit. Something about the eyes. We've seen things that we can never forget."

@liiindzayloo @kathryniveyy @TreasureeIsland How it started vs how it’s going 🙃

When asked what she wished people understood about the coronavirus and her work, Kathryn told BuzzFeed, "When you die of COVID-19, you die alone in a hospital room with glass doors, with no privacy or dignity. You die away from your family and surrounded by strangers wearing so much PPE, they look like aliens. You die with tubes coming out of almost every orifice. You die slowly and painfully and brutally, and I don't want that for any of you."

Kathryn also said, "To the people doubting whether or not COVID is real, or whether it's as bad as the media and some politicians say it is, healthcare workers have no reason to lie to you. We have gained nothing from this pandemic, and we, too, are tired of quarantine and lockdowns. But even more than that, we are tired of the endless waves of death and grief that could have been prevented. We want what we've always wanted: to take care of you and to keep you safe. For the last 20 years, Americans have honored nurses by voting us as the most trusted profession. Trust us now."

Kathryn, thank you so much for sharing such an important, lifesaving message, and for all the work you and your fellow healthcare workers are putting in during this long, painful, and unpredictable pandemic. And as a friendly reminder to you, the reader: LISTEN TO KATHRYN. Stay inside if you can, wear a mask in public spaces, and stay safe by following CDC guidelines. We all need to do our part — now more than ever — to help stop the spread.