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New York Times Opinion film looks at nurses' role in fighting COVID-19

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A short film by the New York Times' Opinion is looking at the crucial role nurses have played in the COVID-19 pandemic. "Death, Through a Nurse's Eyes" follows some front-line workers as they work in an Arizona intensive care unit. Lucy King, a senior video journalist for Opinion Video at the Times, joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero to discuss the film.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: One year since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, "The New York Times" Opinion is taking a look at the role nurses have played in fighting COVID. The short film "Death, Through a Nurse's Eyes" follows some frontline workers as they work in an Arizona intensive care unit.

FRANK LOVECCHIO: Look, I walk into the room. I say, hey, sounds like you have COVID. And I might order a chest X-ray. I might order blood work. I might order catheter. All that stuff is done by the nurse.

I may spend 10 minutes. The nurse might spend seven or eight hours actually in the room caring for them. Let's say there was a day that nurses didn't come to the hospital. It's like, why are you even opening?

- And it's open.

- 12-hour-plus shifts isolated in this windowless room. These nurses survive by taking care of each other.

- You guys need your face shields wiped?

- Oh, thank you.

TANYA RIVERO: For more on this, I want to bring in Lucy King. She's a senior video journalist for Opinion Video at "The New York Times." Hi, Lucy. Great to have you with us. Wow, what an amazing piece of journalism that look inside the ICU from the nurse's perspective-- a place that journalists themselves aren't even allowed.

It was so harrowing to watch what they go through on a daily basis-- so eye-opening. You are one of the producers of this film. What stood out to you the most from this short film about what the conditions were like inside an ICU in Arizona during COVID and the incredible work that these nurses do day in and day out?

LUCY KING: Well, thanks for having me, Tanya. I think for us, it was always-- you know, everybody knows that nursing is a difficult job. But what we realized after filming there is that there's a whole new level of job that these nurses have to do and that being a surrogate family member.

So family members can't be at the loved one's side as they die. And, therefore, the nurses are the ones having to hold their hands. The nurses are the ones taking part in these video chats where their son or daughter or brother that they're saying their last goodbyes. And that tragedy creates an intense trauma that they simply don't have time to deal with yet.

TANYA RIVERO: And it's so interesting, because these nurses that you followed with in this short film faced so many hardships, not the least of which is the trauma that is sometimes daily of losing patients and being the only ones with them as they take their last breath while their family members are on a video conference in the room.

I mean, that compounded just adds up to so much trauma. I mean, the journalist at the end of the film noted that he thought that this is going to be something that we're all going to be dealing with in the months and years after this pandemic is over. The fact that there is so much PTSD left over from this. What did you think about the emotional health that these nurses must possess?

LUCY KING: I think the problem is they simply do not have time to deal with it yet. They've seen more death in the last year than they have in their entire careers. That's very clear. This is a nationwide problems, been half a million deaths.

The vast majority of those deaths will have been in ICUs with nurses by their side instead of family members. And because of the existing nursing shortage, which has been made worse by the pandemic, these nurses are run off their feet. They simply do not have time to process the trauma. And so our overriding impression was that this is a mental health legacy that will go on for far longer than the news is covering this pandemic.

TANYA RIVERO: And, of course, there was a moment there when one of the nurses said, there are plenty of people out there who aren't taking this seriously. I don't understand how that can be because when they come here, they want to be treated just like everyone else.

And, of course, Lucy, today, marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. What do you think your short film shows about what we've all gone through in the past year and are still going through now?

LUCY KING: What we really wanted to show with this is the brutality of the pandemic. You know, I mentioned half a million deaths. And largely, they've gone on behind closed doors and in rooms that no one can access apart from these nurses.

So we really just wanted to bring the brutality to people's screens so that they can understand that a year on, we can't be complacent about this thing because it's very real. And it's still happening. And it's very tragic. And that's what we were hoping to achieve with this.

TANYA RIVERO: And you certainly did. It was a harrowing piece of journalism. Lucy King of "The New York Times." Thank you so much for joining us.

LUCY KING: Thank you.