‘I've Seen So Many People Die': Relentless Stress, Frustration of Caring for Unvaccinated Takes Toll On Local Nurses

Megan Ryan plans to leave the profession after 13 years as a nurse, citing mental and physical health concerns

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The pandemic has taken a relentless physical and mental toll on front line health care workers, many of whom are growing frustrated with the number of unvaccinated patients crowding hospital ICU’s.

A recent survey by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses showed 66% have considered leaving their jobs.

One of them is Megan Ryan, who’s been a critical care nurse at a major San Diego hospital for the past 13 years.

“It’s honestly made me at this point question whether my skills and my passion are worth what it’s doing to my personal life and my health,” said Ryan, who’s suffered from symptoms of post traumatic stress.

Ryan, 36, is among many nurses now at a breaking point caused by the relentless toll of COVID-19.

“I’ve seen so many people die. I’ve seen patients run the full course. They come to me awake and talking and on some oxygen, and I’ve seen it go all the way to the end to where I’m holding up an iPad while their children cry,” said Ryan.

But what’s added to Ryan’s frustration is that many of the deaths and hospitalizations, she says, are now preventable.

The unvaccinated are causing a strain on local hospitals, the heads of San Diego's hospitals laid out for the city council Monday. NBC 7's Priya Sridhar has more.

“It’s created in me a lot of frustration and a lot of stress that I kind of feel manifests in anger,” said Ryan.

Her anger now pointed directly at unvaccinated patients, who she now sees almost exclusively. It's grown difficult, she says, to help people who refuse to help themselves.

“It’s a little hard for nurses who are already burned out, who already are stretched to the limits of their empathy, to continue to feel fully empathetic and fully caring for people who didn’t seem to care enough to try to protect themselves or us,” said Ryan.

Ryan says when she was vaccinated last December, it offered a sense of hope.

“And watching that hope just dwindle away, and not because of a lack of treatment, not because of lack of prevention, not because of lack of vaccines, but because of people deciding that their personal freedom, which was never a problem for any vaccinations prior to this one for the majority of Americans, but their personal freedom with this vaccination is more important than the overall collective well-being of their neighbors,” said Ryan

She now plans to leave the profession and move to the Midwest in the coming months. She says it was a difficult decision, but will allow her to refocus energy on family.

“It does make me feel underappreciated and it makes me feel, honestly I end of feeling almost make me feel like a more selfish person. If nobody’s going to help protect me, I’m going to have to do what I can to protect myself and to protect my own family,” said Ryan..

Ryan hopes to one day return to bedside nursing, but for now, the time is right to take a step back from the unrelenting stress. She has this message for those still refusing to get vaccinated.

“If they would listen more to their actual health care providers on a more human level, and disengage from social media and actually talk to a person who has studied and learned about it, that would make a world of difference,” said Ryan.

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