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BOISE — Kori Albi, nurse and supervisor in the Saint Alphonsus COVID intensive care unit in Boise, has something important to say. It’s about her daily work that deals in sickness and sometimes death from a pandemic that she worries not enough people take seriously. But you won’t see her making her pleas in an emotional video like other frustrated nurses have done since the onset of the virus.

“Sometimes I think if it’s too overly emotional, people sometimes think it’s staged,” Albi said. “I just want them to know what it’s really like.”

Albi was recently interviewed by The Washington Post in a Dec. 7 article, ”What seven ICU nurses want you to know about the battle against COVID-19.” Albi was to the point: She’s not as worried about contracting the virus at work as she is about getting it from others in the community.

“Our staff are getting sick. Our physicians are getting sick. And they’re not getting it from the hospital. They’re getting it from the community,” Albi said in the article. She stressed that health care workers have all of the personal protective equipment they need, at least for now. “That’s not what worries me at all. Going out into the community is scarier than coming into work every day. Because you don’t know who has it.”

Albi also talked with the Idaho Press and said she has seen patients die from the novel coronavirus, and those who perish are not necessarily the old and infirm. She’s seen patients from 19 to 90 come through the ICU. “We have had a handful who seem to be healthy. It could be any of us at any time,” Albi said. “When we’re out and around a lot of people, we’re all at risk.”

A LIFELONG CAREER

Albi has always wanted to be where she is today.

“Taking care of people is what I’ve always done,” she said. “I got my CNA (certified nurse assistant) license when I was 16. I started at Saint Al’s in 2011.”

Married for 10 years, Albi and her husband have two children, 5-year-old Addilynn, now in kindergarten, and 7-year-old Hayden, a second-grader. Albi said both are now in school, but that could change at any time, and in fact, they have had to go through several virtual and in-person learning experiences already this year. “We’ve had to arrange and rearrange our lives and our schedules. There is no routine in our life right now.”

But what she’s really worried about is COVID-19. “Our numbers are increasing. Patients are getting sicker.” She said they have discussions at work daily about what they can do if — or when — conditions demand more space.

“What’s our triage for our next phase? When this unit’s full, where do we send our next patient? … We always have a plan in place; some days it’s more of a physical dance than others.”

What kind of a toll is it all taking on those who are working on the front lines?

“We all signed up to be nurses. At the end of the day, we’re still doing that,” she said. “How do we help support everybody? Everybody wants recognition and to be heard.”

To that end, Albi said Saint Al’s staff hold weekly resiliency calls, and nurses can call in as they like or feel the need.

“Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone,” she said, “that we’re all in this together. For me, personally, I’ve always been able to separate work from home, but with COVID … a death happens and it happens quickly. A lot of (patients) are getting it from their family members. That’s devastating. Aunt Mary went to Thanksgiving. Now Aunt Mary’s in the ICU.”

Whatever happens, Albi said she will continue doing what she’s doing. “I get up, I get dressed and I come to work every day. They need all of us to show up every day and be the best versions of ourselves.”

And she said each and every nurse carries each death from COVID-19 that occurs on their watch in their hearts. “There’s kind of a gaping hole,” she said. She braces herself as she walks in each day. “I’ll hold my breath when I come onto the unit.”

The rooms there are numbered but the nurses who tended patients who did not go home, remember them. “A lot of these rooms will have names in our minds forever.”

Jeanne Huff is the community engagement editor for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at 208-465-8106 and follow her on Twitter @goodnewsgirl.

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