The teammates working in our COVID-19 units have experienced some of the most traumatic moments of the pandemic.

Coronavirus Updates, News | 14 days ago

Behind the Scenes: Working in the COVID ICU

The teammates working in our COVID-19 units have experienced some of the most traumatic moments of the pandemic. From behind the scenes, here’s what it’s really like to work in one of these units. Our teammates hope it will change the minds of anyone who hasn’t gotten the vaccine.

As healthcare workers, our doctors and nurses spend their careers caring for people who are sick. That is the job. That is to be expected. What is not to be expected is desperately trying to save people who are sick when their illness could have been prevented. What is not to be expected are full intensive care units packed with patients who may never speak with their families again. 

The teammates working in our COVID-19 medical intensive care units are dealing with these scenarios each and every day. All day. And even after they go home. They still hear the beeps of the monitors. They can’t shake the final moments of an unvaccinated COVID-19 patient’s life who changed their mind about getting the shot too late. They worry you might be next. And our hospitals are so full, they worry, they won’t be able to give you the care you need. 

From teammates working in the Medical ICUs at Carolinas Medical Center and Atrium Health Pineville, here are the raw unfiltered moments they want you to understand. 


Stacy Wilson, RCP

Respiratory Therapist, Atrium Health Pineville

“It’s not easy going in with a mindset of ‘Wow someone might die today.’” 

Stacy Wilson


Bekah Oelkers, MSN, RN, CCRN

Clinical Supervisor, Atrium Health Pineville Medical ICU 

“We had a patient who was unvaccinated and about to be intubated. And the last words he ever spoke were, ‘Just tell my wife I love her.’”

Bekah Oelkers


William Hastings, BSN, RN

Charge Nurse, Code Team Leader, Atrium Health Pineville

“Instead of these being 60, 70, 80-year-old patients saying goodbye to their adult children, these patients are so much younger that they are saying goodbye to their 13-year-old. Their 8-year-old.” 

William Hastings


Something as simple as entering a patient’s room is no longer simple. 

The teammates working in our COVID-19 units have experienced some of the most traumatic moments of the pandemic.

Every day, respiratory therapists and nurses work together to physically lift patients with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome with COVID-19, to place them in the prone position for a portion of the day. 

“Placing the patient on their stomach for a portion of the day in the setting of lung injury can improve oxygen exchange and lessen ventilator-induced lung injury and improve survival,” explains Jason Zolak, MD

The teammates working in our COVID-19 units have experienced some of the most traumatic moments of the pandemic.

The process requires the intricate cooperation of three respiratory therapists and six or seven nurses working in unison to lift and turn the patient while they are deeply sedated and connected to multiple IVs, the ventilator with a breathing tube in place and other connections such as chest tubes. The nurses and respiratory therapists do this twice a day on multiple patients.

Caring for COVID-19 patients is not only physically exhausting, it is mentally and emotionally draining. Our teammates are often the last people many of these patients speak to. Sometimes, they’re the last people they see.

The teammates working in our COVID-19 units have experienced some of the most traumatic moments of the pandemic.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is the emotional well-being and physical well-being of our teammates,” says nurse manager Laura Ledford, BSN, RN, CCRN.

“They have stretched themselves beyond their limits, beyond what they ever thought they could and they continue to do this day in and day out,” Ledford says.


Natalie Marie Rapach, BSN, RN

Atrium Health Pineville Medical ICU

“I’m 23-years old. I’ve decided to take a different job because I feel like I’m too young to be doing all this and getting so burnt out.”

Natalie Raypach


For many of these teammates, the most mentally draining part is knowing that much of the heartache could be prevented. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and readily available. 

Anil Jotwani, MD

Medical Director, Atrium Health Pineville Medical ICU

“Someone who is otherwise healthy shouldn’t have to pass away from a virus, especially when we have a vaccine available that’s probably more effective than any other vaccine that we’ve ever had in preventing severe illness and hospitalization.”

Anil Jotwani


Charley Shoaf, RN

Atrium Health Pineville Medical ICU

“We’ve had patients who’ve lost their whole family.”

Charley Shoaf

Like all of us, they are hopeful for an end to this pandemic. An ending that comes with herd immunity, which can only be accomplished through cooperation and mass vaccination. 


Hannah Graybill, RN

Pineville MICU

“I can only hope and pray that this is going to start dropping off and this is going to get better.”

Hannah Grayville