ICU nurse talks how COVID-19 has changed her life


ICU nurse Lindsey Burrell says COVID-19 has created a slew of new challenges.

April 18, 2020, 1:03 PM

8 min read

Lindsey Burrell didn’t always want to be a nurse. That changed nine years ago when her neighbor was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and put on hospice. Burrell, who had her heart set on being a lawyer, spent much of her time with her neighbor in her final weeks.

Before she died, the neighbor told Burrell that being a nurse was her calling. She applied to nursing school a week later.

Burrell is now a 38-year-old intensive care nurse at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, California. She’s used to very busy days in the intensive care unit (ICU), but treating patients with the coronavirus, COVID-19, has presented unique challenges.

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“Suddenly our patients are isolated in a room by themselves with the door shut,” Burrell told ABC News. “The barrier of not being able to communicate like normal has really made it more difficult in a mental sense as well.”

In audio diaries, Burrell talks about the physical and mental toll of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Her personal story is featured in “The Essentials: Inside the Curve,” a special series of the ABC News podcast “Start Here,” which posts on Saturdays.

Burrell says she has been tested for COVID-19 twice, but despite symptoms such as respiratory distress, cough and fever, both tests came back negative.

“I realize that the mental anxiety that has been running through my veins for weeks on end since we’ve been talking about this is physically making me sick,” she said.

Burrell made the decision to reach out to a psychiatrist for help. She acknowledged that medical professionals bear a heavy emotional burden in the current crisis.

“You know, we literally feel like, as nurses and other health care providers, that we’re in like a battle zone and you just hope for the best,” she said. “You hope that you come out unscathed, but there’s no promise of that. We are seeing things and doing things that we never imagined.”

Burrell reflected on a photo from the last moment of normalcy before her life and work were affected by the coronavirus. It’s a photo from March 15 of her kids, a 4-year-old and an 18-month-old, sitting on the beach, watching their dad surf. Burrell’s family lives about a mile away from the beach and, prior to the pandemic, would spend much of their time there. On that particular day, as Burrell sat on the beach watching her kids look out at the ocean, she realized that the world was about to change.

“Slowly, people were starting to wear masks,” Burrell said. “There’s kind of this feeling walking on the strand of like don’t get too close to me, but, you know, people would still stop and talk. And then days later is when it all closed down.”

Her family is adjusting to their new socially distant life. Burrell’s 4-year-old son is no longer able to attend preschool, so she has started homeschooling him. Now, after spending long days caring for patients in the ICU, she cherishes the moments when she gets to come home to her husband and two children.

“When I go home to my kids, who I miss tremendously, I can’t wait to see them,” she said. “I know that they’re going to stand there and stare at me because they know that they can’t touch me until I am [sic] changed my clothes and showered. But I get to go home. My whole life, my kids and my husband. Makes everything worth it.”

At work, Burrell is finding moments of optimism. On April 9, she watched as one of her patients who had been in the hospital for about a week-and-a-half recovered and was able to leave the hospital.

“That is the sign of hope that we needed,” she said. “It’s exactly what we needed.”

“Start Here” offers a straightforward look at the day’s top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

What to know about coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map
  • ABC News’ Cassidy Gard contributed to this report

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