The pandemic through the eyes of 2 ICU health care workers


DENVER (KDVR) – Two Colorado frontline health care workers are reflecting on their pandemic experiences, just about a year after Colorado’s first confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Ryan Kelley is a respiratory therapist at Denver Health Medical Center. He often works with critical care registered nurse Jamie Bach.

To say both have been busy the last year, would be an understatement.

“A busy COVID workload is much different from what was considered a busy workload before, because of how severely sick all of them were,” Kelley said, referring to patients.

He manages the ventilators that keep oxygen pumping into COVID (and other) patients’ damaged lungs.

“It’s been a snowballing effect without the ability to recharge,” Bach said. “It’s intense.”

That’s especially true with the initial surge of patients in the spring. Then, Bach and others didn’t know if they could keep from contracting COVID themselves, so many made sure to keep their distance from their family members.

“Basically, I’m going to commit to work for about six weeks to see if nurses start dropping like flies or if we are going to be able to get through this using PPE and not dying,” Bach said.

The personal protective equipment (PPE) worked, and most health care workers stayed safe.

Since that surge, the entire ICU staff has learned how to treat COVID patients better. Plus, public health orders helped slow the spread.

“We’re not feeling overrun with COVID patients anymore,” Kelley said.  

Right now, Denver Health has just five COVID patients on a ventilator. In early May, it was nearly two dozen who couldn’t breathe on their own.

That was also about the time strangers started showing their support for health care workers.

The Air Force Thunderbirds did a flyover across much of the Front Range. And at hospitals, people dropped off donations of food, gift baskets, clothes, personal services gift cards and more.

“If you are out there and you did not hear a thank you,” Bach said, “This is definitely a ‘thank you’ from health care.”

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