Kenyatta Carroll never really noticed a dip in the number of patients coming to her hospital ward between the COVID-19 Delta wave last fall and the current Omicron wave.

In the Intensive Care Unit at Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis, where Carroll works, the COVID wave never stopped. Russ-Em Tracy Johnson, a registered nurse at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, said the COVID patients she’s currently seeing in the cardiovascular ICU are increasingly younger and getting sick faster. 

Michelle Davenport, a registered nurse and professional development specialist at HCMC, is training new nurses who have never worked with patients before—an unthinkable prospect for nurse graduates before the pandemic. Shortages at the hospital mean that Davenport will be back treating COVID patients herself next week. 

Wilson Ekinde, an assistant nurse in a medical surge unit at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, noticed COVID patients in his ward not getting as sick as they did during Delta last fall. But his hospital is still overcrowded, and he and his team are meeting in the hallway instead of the staff room, which was converted to hold patients.  

Sahan Journal spoke at length to these four nurses to hear, in their words, what it’s like to work in a hospital during the highest surge of COVID cases in the nearly two-year old global pandemic. They described the horror, challenges, and lessons learned in their experiences and lessons learned in the last two years. 

“Now the nurses, they are more armed to face the devil,” Ekinde said. 

What follows are conversations with each nurse, edited for length and clarity.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...