“That was like a light switch”: UCHealth nurse reflects back one year after COVID vaccine

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FILE: A Thai nurse injects a patient with their first dose of the Pfizer Vaccine at Central Westgate Mall on August 30, 2021 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)

COLORADO SPRINGS — It’s been one year since the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered to health care and frontline workers. But not everyone has followed suit, and public health experts say the refusal by some to get vaccinated is allowing the pandemic to linger on.

“I was a little nervous for sure,” said Cindy Ramberg, a registered nurse with UCHealth. “But I think the excitement, or hope – I think ‘hope’ is the right word – of what it might mean for people far outweighed anything I was worried about.”

But initially, even Ramberg wasn’t so sure about it.

“I had the same reservations probably millions of people had,” she said. “And then I was talking to my aunt, who lives in Canada, and she had no hesitation to get the vaccine. I said, ‘Wow, you seem so comfortable with that decision.’ And she said, ‘I lived through polio – the only way we got past that was the vaccine.’ And for me that was like a light switch.”

And for the past 20 months, Ramberg has been treating the worst effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. She and her colleagues donned protective gear, but working inches away from infected patients, without the benefits of a vaccine, shook her confidence.

“Initially, we all thought we were going to die. Literally, we thought we were going to come to work, catch COVID, you were going to die, you were going to take it home to your family,” she said. “That seems dramatic, but it really is the reality.”

Ramberg has worked in intensive care units for the past 32 years – but after caring for hundreds and hundreds of COVID patients – she says the last two have been the most trying.

“It’s a lot of death,” she said. “It’s death that I’ve never experienced in 32 years in the ICU. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. I come for my coworkers.”

But many of those coworkers have left health care entirely – being unable to cope with the number of lives lost and the overall stress of the pandemic. Many say they are now on medication to help deal with those effects. Ramberg’s turned to therapy to help keep her going, though, at times, she deals with the difficulties of the day – at night.

“You tend to go to bed at night, for me, you replay that day over and over and over again. And you don’t get great sleep,” she said. “So, it’s all those little things of figuring out how to get a better sleep and how you shut that brain off at night – to come back the next day and do it all over again.”

And a continuing frustration for Ramberg and others in the medical field is the number of unvaccinated patients in their hospital beds. More than 90 percent of patients on ventilators are unvaccinated.

And, with ICU beds at more than 90 percent full across the state of Colorado – Ramberg hopes people will do more in the way of preventative care.

“People don’t understand what it’s like,” she said. “You really don’t get it unless you walk a day in our shoes to see how sick people really are. If me talking about this can get one person vaccinated – I promise you do not want this.”

For information on where you to get your vaccine in El Paso County, click here.

For vaccine locations in Pueblo County, click here.

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