SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It was about two weeks ago when intensive care nurse Caroline Maloney stopped in her tracks as she walked toward the unit where she has spent the past year and a half caring for COVID-19 patients.
For months, her hospital’s six ICU units had been nearly back to normal, not sealed off because the beds were filled with patients battling the insidious infection that had claimed many of her patients — so many that she long ago lost count.
But on this day, the doors were closed. And she knew what it meant.
“I couldn’t believe we’re doing this again,” said Maloney, a 55-year-old nurse with nearly 30 years’ experience. “We’ve closed the unit again, and here we are again.”
A full 18 months into Arizona’s fight against the Coronavirus, 1 million confirmed virus cases and more than 18,000 deaths later, Maloney is at times upbeat, at times dejected. The see-saw of Arizona’s fight against COVID-19 has been ever-present in her life. The state become a national hot spot in July 2020 and saw a fall lull before a winter surge that at times killed hundreds a day.
Maloney, a nurse for a dozen years at HonorHealth’s Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center whose accent reveals she hails from South Boston, first spoke with The Associated Press about her experience treating virus patients in June 2020.
At the time, she was upbeat, pleased that a good number of the really sick patients who needed ventilators in her ICU were recovering.
“I really feel here at Osborn that we’ve had amazing outcomes,” she said at the time. “We have done exceptionally well. We have seen most of our patients leave the ICU — I don’t have the exact numbers — but our numbers are low as far as mortality.”
By January 2021, that had changed. The patients were sicker, death rates had skyrocketed, and she was more dejected. Arizona’s hospitals were inundated with virus patients. On Jan. 11, the state Health Services Department reported that nearly 1,200 of the state’s approximately 1,800 intensive care beds were filled with COVID-19 patients.
When she spoke with the AP on Jan. 12, the state had tallied more than 636,000 COVID-19 cases and counted 10,855 deaths from COVID-19. And she was seeing well over half her patients die, often after weeks fighting for their lives in her unit.
Her hospital had converted five of its six ICU units into closed COVID-19 wards. Equipment sat outside closed patient rooms so nurses could maintain ventilators and IV pumps without having to get fully dressed in protective gear. Those who went into rooms for patient care donned full masks and gowns and looked otherworldly.
“We looked like we were going to war — and I think that we were,” she said. “We were raging against an unknown entity that we had no answer to.”