NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

COVID-19 one year later: An oral history

In March 2020 the world stood still when a pandemic ended everyday life. It started as a virus with its origins unknown that started in the city of Wuhan in the heart of the People’s Republic of China. After that it went global with the first cases popping out of the borders of the PRC. By March 2021 over 500,000 Americans had died from COVID-19. This event would shake the core of the Medical Community and put a strain on  all of them both physically and psychologically.  These are a handful accounts from people with in the medical community in the state of Massachusetts more specifically the doctors and nurses of Lawrence General hospital. These are a series of interviews conducted by email over a series of days and some of the interviews were condensed down.


  1. Where were you when you heard about the outbreak and how did you feel?


Erica Cutter RN, MSN, Mother of NECC Correspondent Zachary Cutter, Newburyport, MA

Not sure about location. But I remember thinking it would never get as bad as they were saying. I really thought well it will be like the yearly flu-some get it-some don’t. That there was no way possible it could or would effect so many people. I also felt sad and selfish because we had a big trip planned with the family.


Deb Karantonis, RN,BSN,CCRN, Salem, NH

When I heard about the outbreak I was at first hesitant to believe it was real. I thought it was going to be similar to the every day Influenza virus. But when it hit Boston at that convention they were having I actually got a little knot in my throat and said wow it is unbelievable and it is going to spread like wild fire. I felt very nervous for my family and also as a critical care nurse felt very nervous for myself and for my coworkers not knowing what to expect


Glenn Newsome MD, Andover, MA

I feel like most people, I do not recall a particular place or time that I heard about the Coronavirus.  My awareness seemed to come on gradually.  There were sporadic news reports and then rather suddenly it seemed to be upon us. The real warning came when the participants of the Biomedical company became sick after a conference Boston.  It was then that I realized it was on our door step.  My first personal involvement started when I was asked to come back to cover in the LGH ICU.  The hospital developed a plan to care for the surge of COVID-19 patients by opening more critical care beds.  I was extremely concerned about my personal safety and the safety of my family.  Before I began, I saw a memorial to seven Italian physicians that had come out of retirement only to contract the infection and die.  They all looked like me.


Maria Mazzone, RN, ADN,BA Economics,Methuen, MA

I was at home watching the news when I first heard of COVID.  It did not worry me at that time because “it” was not here in Massachusetts.


Linda Brigham, RN, BSN, CCRN, Kingston, NH

I was in the Spanish Virgin Islands on a catamaran and planned to spend our second week in the British Virgin Islands. We were told that we could not enter the British Island for our second week , due to covid, so we sailed the Spanish Islands for our second week. I remember feeling disappointed but, thought “well these islands are beautiful as they are and they will be there  next year”.


  1. When you treated or took care of your first COVID patient did you foresee the pandemic playing out the way it did?


Erica Cutter RN, MSN

I recall two patients that were probable COVID—but we at that time didn’t have the ability or there was a lot of red tape to get them tested.  They were young. And it just didn’t make sense that someone so young could be so sick. I remember the intensivist saying I know what this is.  And from that day forward everything changed.


Deb Karantonis, CCRN,RN, BSN

When I took care of my first COVID patient in the intensive care unit I did not expect to see what I saw. It was unimaginable how quickly a patient could take a turn for the worse you need a breathing tube. It was extremely upsetting to me to see patients call the families or FaceTime their families prior to being intubated. Especially because I and lot of my coworkers and doctors knew that maybe was the last time they would ever see or hear from their loved one again. That seemed almost inevitable in the beginning when somebody received a breathing tube.


Glenn Newsome,MD

Answering a question about the treatment of patients with COVID-19 is a difficult.  Our lack of fundamental knowledge of the pathogenesis of the infection was extremely disturbing.  Every day literally presented new challenges.  The treatment that we used on Monday was not the same treatment that we would use on Wednesday.  It is the first, and hopefully the last time, I practiced medicine on the basis of tweeter feed.  Those first few weeks made us realize that we were dealing with an illness that did not follow the same rules.  For many healthcare workers this uncertainty and confusion resulted in severe emotional stress.  The arrival of SARS-CoV-2 was going to be devastating to mankind.  This may seem strange to say, in retrospect, I thought the loss of life was going to be much worse.


Maria Mazzone, RN, ADN,BA Economics

No I did not. I did not think it was going to affect so many people and that so many of them would die.


Linda Brigham, RN, BSN, CCRN

I totally didn’t foresee this pandemic would have a destructive force our generation would ever encounter.


  1. How did you feel during the height of the outbreak and did you feel mentally strained about it?


Erica Cutter RN, MSN

I felt scared, tired and frustrated.  People were dying all around us.  We couldn’t save them.  I have never witnessed so many people die in such a short amount of time. It really took a toll on the medical team.  We had nurses leaving the bedside in fear of their health and their loved ones.  Nobody wants to think that they brought the covid home and made their household sick.  Many nurses, doctors and practitioners were infected with COVID.  I thankfully did not get infected but it was like just waiting for it. Waiting to get sick and worrying how sick would I get.


Deb Karantonis, RN, BSN, CCRN

During the height of the outbreak I was extremely exhausted and felt overworked. Not only was I working a lot of hours in the intensive care unit but I felt like I wasn’t taking care of my own needs on my family’s needs and never felt like I got a break from wearing all the PPE that is involved in taking care of the COVID patient. I will say I was more than mentally drained


Glenn Newsome MD

Yes, I felt emotionally strained at the height of my involvement with the pandemic.  As I have mentioned previously, there was great concern about personal safety, lack of clarity regarding what the virus was doing to patients, and a general sense of helplessness.  Everyone had to find a way to manage the emotional turmoil.  I relied upon the strength of my family, the courage of my fellow doctors, nurses, and therapists, and faith in a higher power.


Maria Mazzone, RN, ADN,BA Economics

It was very stressful. I was afraid of getting it and bringing the virus home to my family. It was stressful and draining wearing all the PPE and not being able to eat, drink or go to the bathroom without removing all your PPE. At the height of it, we had to wear the body suit, double gloves, surgical hat and face shield or goggles. It takes time to put it on and take it off. We had to open another unit to accommodate all the patients. And one unit, which did not have doors separating the COVID patients, you cannot remove your PPE until you left the unit. There were new staff and new doctors to the hospital that you had to work with. Also a lot of nurses had to get redeployed to help the ICU nurses. Everyone were still learning how to treat covid. And then, we had PPE shortage. Those PPE that we used to take for granted were being exhausted. I was scared, sad, frustrated and drained. I was surprised a lot of us nurses kept working.


Linda Brigham, RN, BSN, CCRN

During the height of the outbreak I was  emotionally and physically on overdrive. I was terrified I would bring this deadly virus home to my family. I soon realized people could survive the covid infection, however the lifelong side effects could be devastating such as: clots in the lungs and fibrosis of the lung tissue.



  1. Do you think we should address the mental and physical toll that this outbreak caused on our medical professionals?


Erica Cutter RN, MSN

Absolutely 100%.  I get so angry when I hear that people think COVID isn’t real. There are so many conspiracy theories.  Just thinking about what we went through in the past year makes me teary.  I actually questioned whether or not I was strong enough mentally to continue at the bedside.  I believe that organizations should be putting their staffs emotional well-being at the top of the priority list.  Nursing during the pandemic will forever be on my mind. I also feel bad for families.  I can’t imagine not being able to be with their loved ones at end of life.


Deb Karantonis, RN, BSN, CCRN

I absolutely feel as though it is imperative to address the mental and physical toll that has been wearing on the medical professionals. We are so focused on taking care of everybody else that I think if our mental and physical issues are not addressed we are going to see devastating affects in the future And I believe you will have a lot of medical professionals leaving their calling


Glenn Newsome MD

This episode in human history is going to leave a permanent scar on many providers in the healthcare world.  This experience is going to result in many deciding that they cannot continue in the field.  They will move on to other pursuits.  For those who decide to stay, there absolutely needs to be better assistance in dealing with the psychological and emotional upheaval.   We have not made much progress in dealing with these issues.  Everyone is expected to be “strong” and carry on.  Isolation is the worst enemy.  Openness and compassion for each other is where healing begins.  We need to check-in with our coworkers and find solutions.


Maria Mazzone, RN, ADN,BA Economics

Yes I think it should be addressed. Resources to help us cope with the mental and physical toll this pandemic caused should be readily available and either free or at a low cost.  There are a lot of nurses who are reevaluating their choice of career.


Linda Brigham, RN, BSN, CCRN,

I absolutely believe the mental and physical toll on the medical professionals should be addressed. I have experienced PTSD due to end of life patient/ family interactions. Several times I had to “face time” family members, because in person visitations were not available,  during which time the family members would talk to their loved ones saying such things like: l love you so much, you are why I am who I am now”! My heart hurt and my tears flowed for the family members who couldn’t be with their loved ones, but in the end I assured the family members  members someone would be with their  loved one at the end. I know this was an incredible relief for family members. A second phase of my PTSD: In the beginning of covid I cared for many patients who were on breathing machines so I had no personal interactions with them. However, 8-9 months into COVID patients would come up to the intensive care unit  requiring a higher level of care. I would bond with these patients , learn their personality, laugh with them, cry with them, THEN …know their path would ultimately end ….so  many silent tears!


  1. How much progress do you think we have made in our ability to tackle another pandemic?


Erica Cutter RN, MSN

This is a tricky one.  I guess I question with what we have learned and would we be able to implement in another pandemic.  One thing that has been proven is that education is key.


Deb Karantonis, RN, BSN, CCRN

So in my opinion I feel as though we have made leaps and bounds in our ability to tackle possibly the next pandemic. I think things will be different from the beginning and the CDC will have something to refer back to In the event of another pandemic. And I believe now that we have had one pandemic I think there will be eventually another pandemic …. who knows when or where it will start but I think it will be inevitable unfortunately


Glenn Newsome MD

No one of this generation will forget the pain and advances made in 2020.  I have optimism that we will be more intellectually and emotionally prepared for the next worldwide epidemic.  We have learned many lessons.  Nations need to be open and honest regarding the emergence of new or novel illness.  Governments need to be ready to coordinate the distribution of materials and assistance based on science and not politics.  Frontline workers need to have access to accurate and timely information to design care plans for patients.  The public has to understand the need to accept personal responsibility for their actions and the impact on others.


Maria Mazzone, RN,ADN,BA Economics

I think we have learned a lot from this pandemic experience although, not fast enough to limit the number of people that died. Not fast enough for people not to suffer financially, losing their business and homes.


Linda Brigham, RN, BSN, CCRN

I believe we have made great progress in the COVID pandemic, however if another pandemic were to surface I believe it would devastate us as a nation. COVID has touched all of us in various ways.


These gut wrenching stories from the medical professions who were close to those infected by the virus showed valor, bravery and courageous acts of kindness to the ones who were dying or at near death. These words cannot express the horror that came with this global event.