Los Angeles,
06:00 AM

Healthcare Heroes: Inside the Summer Surge


What is it like for healthcare professionals to face yet another COVID-19 surge, when many of their sickest patients are unvaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19? The Cedars-Sinai Newsroom team reached out to some of our #HealthcareHeroes to find out.

Pandemic of the Unvaccinated

The current COVID-19 surge is different for Janice Aguilar, RN, and her fellow nurses in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

During the first waves of the pandemic, Aguilar and her colleagues cared for many older adults, as well as patients with underlying health conditions and those who didn't wear face masks or practice physical distancing. But this time around, during a surge that hit Los Angeles just weeks after California relaxed statewide safety measures, Aguilar's patients tend to be unvaccinated and sometimes defiant.

"We're really frustrated. We are really angry," Aguilar said. "We're really sad that this is happening." 

To cope with her feelings, Aguilar started going to therapy. She first sought help when COVID-19 cases subsided earlier this year and she finally had the time to process everything she had experienced during the winter surge.

She is still battling anxiety, but adds, "I'm taking more time to just enjoy my house, enjoy walking my dog, going to the park, going to the beach—just things that are not hospital related."


Too Little, Too Late

For ICU nurse Emily Besch, RN, it's challenging to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients who regret not getting vaccinated. Those who can talk sometimes express fearful remorse before they are placed on a ventilator.

"I've had conversations with patients that are like, 'I wonder where I would have been if I just got vaccinated?'" Besch said. "Families call in, and we're giving them updates, and they're expressing, 'Did we make the wrong decision? If they got vaccinated, would we be here right now?'"

If patients ask her opinion of the vaccine, Besch stresses that it's safe and makes her feel much more confident and protected while treating COVID-19 patients during her long shifts. She encourages everyone to get the shot.

"You don't want to end up where these patients are. You never think it's going to be you until you're in that moment, and you're watching that ICU nurse set up all this sedation right before you're getting intubated," Besch said. "You don't want to be that person."


Longing for Normal

Treating another surge of COVID-19 patients at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital feels like déjà vu for nurse Sophanet Nhoung, RN.

"Everyone says we're heroes, but you know, I don't feel like it," Nhoung admitted. "I'm tired.”

Nhoung has been serving on the front lines since the first days of the pandemic. She copes by staying active in her off hours: exercising, walking around the neighborhood, riding her bike and practicing yoga.

She hopes everyone will get vaccinated against COVID-19 and bring an end to the pandemic.

"We just want to get back to normal,” Nhoung said. "That's what I'm longing for."

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Understanding Vaccine Boosters