Crystal Funke is getting her patients and coworkers through what many consider, the worst of times – the COVID pandemic. She’s been working in the Deaconess Gateway ICU since the Tri-State’s first COVID case back in March.

“It is difficult. Some days are worse than others.” 

Since the first case was reported in our area on March 19, more than 64,000 Tri-Staters have contracted COVID-19. “Most on ventilators. Very stressful.  Constant monitoring.  A lot of them required to be heavily sedated. A lot don’t get better – at least not the ones in the ICU.”

More than 1,100 Tri-Staters have died. Some of those deaths were in Funke’s care. She says it’s exhausting, sad and mentally draining.

A strict ban on visitors means these highly skilled nurses become the lifeline between a sick or dying patient and their frightened, worried family who cannot be there.

“That potential last phone call is very important. That’s the number one goal — make sure they talk to someone before that happens, before intubation, and go on ventilator and they may not come off of it, you know.”

Crystal is the first to say, it’s not just her. “You can’t do it by yourself.  And if there’s one thing about nursing, it’s always team work.  From top down. You gotta lean on each other. We got this. We all have our days, gotta pick each other up and get through it.”

How do you get through it when your patients are gasping for breath, struggling to survive,  and afraid of what may lie ahead, with no loved one there to provide a comforting touch or whisper a prayer?

“To be there with them, take care of them while they’re not able to – that’s a pretty big honor.”

Crystal says that’s when she steps in as surrogate family. She says she calls family and she just sits with her patients.

Crystal can’t help but bring COVID concerns home with her, but she works to keep her family safe.

“They’re in bed by the time I get home, so I sneak up the stairs and give kiss, tell them I love them.”

“She’s a great momma and she helps us a lot,” says her 6-year-old daughter Eden.

Her husband, Nicholas, describes his wife in a similar way, “Inner strength, absolute beauty.  Very smart.  Easy to be in love with.”

This family knows their momma is special. And Crystal knows her family has her back, “I think they’re heroes.  They sacrifice their momma.”

“I’m thankful for all these nurses, especially my mom. They are the backbone of the US during this predicament,” says her 10-year-old son, Oliver.

Time at home gives Crystal balance and renewal to return to work and provide the best care for her patients. She insists, what keeps her going, is her other family, the surrogate family from the ICU, the ones who are tested by this virus, and recover.

“When someone does pull through and kicks it, gets over it and goes on to live, go back home, it’s amazing.

That is the reason to keep working so hard for the sick ones you don’t think are gonna make it.

“Sometimes you do think, what is the point of all this?  No one’s gonna make it.  But there’s that one that you just don’t know about and all of that work is validated and makes it so wonderful.”