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22 Heartbreaking, Real-Life Pictures That Show What It's Like To Work In Hospitals Right Now

"I just spent 13 hours with eight patients on ventilators. By the end of my shift, there were only five."

Most of the world is doing the right thing by social distancing, self-isolating, or quarantining because of the coronavirus. However, health care workers (and many other professions) don't have that luxury. They're on the front lines, taking care of us all.

So we asked all health care workers in the BuzzFeed Community to share pictures and tell us what it's actually like to be on the front lines during this pandemic.

Health care workers aren't just doctors and nurses. They include all types of people, from technicians to EMTs, the custodial staff, and everyone in between. Here are some of their heart-wrenching responses.

1. "This is how my face looks after being in my patient's room for about 45 minutes. Most of my patients are on life support, so I am needed at their bedsides. If we run out of PPE (personal protective equipment), my patients will literally die without my care.

"I’ve been an ICU nurse for about four years now. Usually PPE isn’t an issue, but that was before the pandemic. Now we are being told to wear a yellow mask over our N95 masks so we can reuse the N95s."


2. "I'm an ICU RN. I just spent 13 hours with eight patients on ventilators. By the end of my shift, there were only five."

3. "I've seen patients die while FaceTiming with their families because visitors are not allowed. I'm honored to be the one who gets to hold their hands, but I'm saddened that it has to be gowned, gloved, and shielded from them during their final moments.

"I'm an ER nurse in a hospital that often sees patients from all over the world. We started our COVID protocols early, and we quickly took action. Policy and guidelines change every shift in terms of PPE, protecting our patients and community, and protecting the hospital. We have closed the ambulance bay and put up tents to screen patients, and we have negative pressure rooms to put patients on ventilators if needed.

"I am thankful for my coworkers who choose to be in this profession and stick it out through ups and downs. There's not a shift that goes by where someone doesn't laugh, cry, or groan with exhaustion, but we are so thankful to be there every day."


4. "I'm in the middle of a 60-hour workweek. We're all so tired."

5. "I’m terrified. I have two small children at home, so I take my clothes off in the garage and head straight to a hot shower. I have to bypass my kids when I come home from work. I will not touch anything or anyone until I scrub my entire body clean.

"I’m a physician assistant working at several different nursing homes in my area. We are trying our best to keep this virus out of our facilities. To our patients, these facilities are their homes. A lot of them don’t even realize what is happening in the outside world."


6. "In this photo, there are different-colored dots that we get every day and have to wear on our badges. They confirm that we don't (yet) have a fever.

"It is crucial to understand that there are many more people involved other than just doctors and nurses. I’m a medical resident (physician in training), and though the free snacks are appreciated, the admiration needs to be spread."


7. "I'm an ICU RN. One of the hardest things about this illness is that these patients are critically ill, and we can't let them have visitors because it's too dangerous. If you get this illness, you will most likely die alone, surrounded by staff in isolation gear instead of your family.

"Just imagine sending your loved one to the hospital or into the emergency room and never getting a chance to see them again, unless they test negative or are within hours of death. Plus, we can't offer comfort to our patients because it's too dangerous to spend too long in their room. It really sucks."


8. "We've been reusing a LOT of what should be single-use or single-patient items, and we're saving them in brown paper bags for days on end. I’ve been decorating the bags as a means to try to stay positive and bring a little color to a dark situation.

"I’m a respiratory therapist, and we have been getting a constant stream of changing information about the appropriate/acceptable use of our PPE."


9. "We’re running out of N95 respirators. So we’re taking a page out of the Star Wars book of facial protection. If you’re wondering if we can breathe and/or speak in these, the answer is barely."

10. "I took this selfie after 12 hours of sitting outside in the 90-degree Florida heat, screening every employee who tried to enter the building."

11. "The unknown is why this is all so stressful. By the end of this 12-hour shift, I was sweating like a pig and wanted to cry because of how overwhelmed I was.

"I'm a nursing assistant in our ER. This picture was taken in our respiratory track, which used to be our walk-in clinic. We can lock it down from the rest of the ER and put anyone with symptoms over there to prevent spread. I have an N95 on under the procedure mask to help keep it clean, since it must be reused. I had to buy my own eye protection because we just don't have enough. All of this was required to be worn the entire 12-hour shift."


12. "Drained. Not enough supplies. No COVID-19 test for employees at our hospital."

13. "I took this picture today because it was exciting that someone donated us masks. This one is reusable and can be washed. Other than this mask, I don’t have any personal protective equipment.

"I work as a medical assistant in a primary care doctor's office. We don't have enough masks to last us for much longer. We are also refusing to bring patients into the office if they have COVID symptoms, so it can be difficult triaging patients on the phone because I’ve had a few people lie about their symptoms.

"I also have a few patients currently in the hospital who tested positive. It's heartbreaking to read their reports and see how sick they are. My office doesn’t even know when this will go back to normal or when we can see patients in the office again."


14. "Working on the front lines right now means standing in a patient's room, sweating profusely underneath all the layers, and fighting for their life.

"This is what it looks like. Layers of PPE (that I’m thankful for) that is being reused over and over again. Working right now means knocking on the glass door until someone walks by so you can ask for what you need. It also means frantically trying to save a life, largely by yourself, because only certain people can even come inside the room."


15. "I am an ICU nurse on a COVID unit at one of the largest hospitals in the state. We're given one mask with one paper bag and are told to reuse it until it falls apart.

"I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. People need me, but I expect the people above me to also take care of me because I need them."

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16. "I am a pediatric nurse in Atlanta. Due to the shortage of PPE, we have to reuse things. People have taken so many masks, gowns, and gloves that we have to hide them to protect ourselves in the coming weeks and months.

"Due to this pandemic, many of our kids in the hospital are alone. It's hard to explain to children why Mommy and Daddy both can’t be in the room with them. Toddlers and babies are without their families because they can only have one visitor at a time. So not only do I have to walk into their room looking like an alien, but they also don’t have their family to feel safe and protected."


17. "I really hope this will be over soon so people in my nursing home can see their loved ones again, or at the very least eat in the same room together.

"I work at a nursing home in Ohio. I'm tired. The residents are going stir-crazy but hanging in there. The everyday way of doing things around here has changed."


18. "I'm a nurse anesthesiologist. I have to wear this respirator all day, every day. I'm so thankful to have these supplies, as so many of my colleagues do not."

19. "This is my amazing collection tent crew. We’re here for our community and our patients six days a week.

"I’m so proud of the way health care professionals are coming together, and even prouder of the bonds I’m experiencing firsthand. We are TRULY all in this together."


20. "I work in a cardiac ICU that has turned into a COVID-19 unit. We have shortages of medications and supplies, all the nurses are discouraged and exhausted, and our patients are so sick that many of them are dying."

21. "We are motivated to come to work, yet deeply saddened by the little PPE we are given. We are often distributed only one mask and one gown for the WHOLE shift.

"I’m a health care worker in Central Massachusetts. Despite it all, I'm still proud to be a nurse during this unprecedented time."


22. "My biggest fear is getting someone sick, though my hands are dry and cracked from washing them all the time. I feel guilty going to work and coming home to my beautiful family. I would never forgive myself if I got them sick.

"I also fear being called into the hospital to help if hospital staff get sick. I, like most doctors, am in this to make people better, and I don't want to mess anything up. I'm a pediatrician in a community health center in Boston. I am not seeing many patients but am doing telehealth visits. It works well for families so they don't have to leave their homes (and for me so I'm exposed less). I'm trying my best to make sure all of our kids get their vaccines on time. We don't want a measles epidemic on top of everything else. The people with whom I work and the community with which I work are amazing, strong, and caring."


Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.