This article is part of a series called “On the Frontlines,” where we profile the struggles of those who fought the COVID-19 virus as frontline or essential workers, as they process the toll this pandemic has taken.
Ashley started working at the maternity ward of a New Jersey hospital right after graduating nursing school in 2019. She could not have anticipated what would come the following year.
Early on in the pandemic, a number of the nurses on her unit developed COVID-related symptoms after a patient came down with COVID during her stay in the delivery room. A lag in testing prevented the nurses from understanding if they had COVID or just the flu. They had all tested negative for the flu before testing positive for COVID once the COVID tests came to the hospital a week later.
Although she ultimately tested negative for COVID, Bonham did fall sick, and was concerned about the lag in testing.
“At that point, people didn’t really know [what was going on],” she said. “It felt really scary to not know if all these patients and all these people that we worked with were going to die.”
What was also scary for her and her colleagues was coming home after work to their families.
“We were constantly wondering if we were gonna get sick,” she said. “Everybody I worked with feared that they were going to get one of their children sick.
She hopes that society will recognize the mental health toll working in a hospital setting takes on nurses, especially during the pandemic.
‘I don’t think people realize what a toll [the pandemic] took on people’s mental health,” she said. “Every time I see my friends, the first thing they always want to ask is about the hospital, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
She acknowledges that being a nurse can be a harrowing job at times, but she has not seen anything as morbid as the pandemic.
“It can be traumatic to be a nurse anytime,” she said. “You’re seeing really sad things happen but it’s hard to imagine the way the pandemic was last spring.”
*The interviewee asked to remain anonymous. We have used an alias to protect her privacy.