The past few years of the COVID-19 pandemic have put a strain on the healthcare industry, especially nurses on the front lines for one Northeast Ohio nurse. It was especially challenging as she entered the job just as a pandemic hit.

25-year-old Allie Hemminger of Mogadore graduated from nursing school in 2019.

She eventually got a job at Akron Summa Hospital, and she had big plans to care for epilepsy patients, and then COVID-19 changed everything.

“The unit I worked on, it was kind of small, so it actually got shut down and my manager at the time forced all of the nurses on the unit to go to ICU training whether we liked it or not. So we went and did like a four to six hour crash course and we were like thrown into it like it was nothing,” Hemminger said.

She says that crash-course was overwhelming. She had to quickly learn a bunch of new medications on top of how to use a ventilator. And she says the hardest part was seeing families faced with tragedy.

“There was a patient, you know what, who wasn’t doing very good in the ICU. They only said that one person could come in and see their mom before she passed away, and they told this one person that they couldn’t even touch her. She had to stand in the hallway with the doors closed and say goodbye to their mom. The only thing we could do was set a chair outside the patient room so the family, the one family member, could just sit there and watch. I didn’t sleep for a couple days after that.”

Hemminger says the last two years have taken a toll on her in every sense.

“You don’t have time to cry like and you know when you’re off with the shift like I’ve spent many times on my way home. I just sit in my car and cry for a good five minutes, you know before I head home and you don’t sleep, and then you’re just expected to come to work again.”

As the pandemic has gone on, hospitals have been faced with new challenges including staffing. Hemminger says the nursing shortage has worsened.

“I’ve had to take up to eight patients in a 12-hour shift. Sometimes some patients don’t get their medications until midnight or 1:00 AM, their 9:00 PM medications, because I had too many patients. You know nurses are bred to give quality care and when you can’t give that quality care, it makes a lot of nurses want to leave.”

It’s meant long hours of physical strain.

“I’ve experienced many shifts of not peeing, not eating and not drinking for 12 hours straight. I was afraid I was going to get a, a kidney infection because I didn’t pee for over 15 hours one day,” Hemminger said.

As the Omicron wave has subsided and vaccines now available, Hemminger says she’s learning how to live with the virus.

“When I have friends that test positive for COVID like we went to Orlando a couple weeks ago and one of the people we went with, she got sick when we came back, and she ended up testing positive for COVID. And I got a text like hey, you know like she tested positive for COVID and my response was ‘oh, I hope they feel better.’ I have the mentality now. I hope they feel better… am I scared now? No.”

After entering the nursing field at the start of the pandemic and putting her dreams aside to take care of COVID patients, Hemminger is now working as a travel nurse in Boardman on a step-down ICU for tracheotomy and ventilator patients.

She says she loves being a nurse and has learned that, no matter what the struggle, she wants to keep helping people.

Alexis Tupta is a journalism student at Kent State University. She originally produced this story for the Storytelling with Sound class taught by Ideastream Public Media All Things Considered host Amanda Rabinowitz.