"I’m a little tired. It’s been a long nine months," said Samantha Rowley, RN, MSN, and senior vice president of nursing for surgical services at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
Tired is an understatement for the executive nurse over Parkland's Tactical Care Unit. Every day, Rowley, known to her team as Sam, helps care for the sickest COVID-19 patients.
"This is a horrible disease," Rowley said. "It's devastating. It's making patients extraordinarily sick -- sicker than we've ever seen."
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Rowley allowed The Dallas Morning News to chronicle her 20-hour day which starts well before sunup and ends long after sundown.
She is constantly on the move at the hospital while making decisions about the best care for patients and the best management of her team who were managing the care for more than 100 COVID-19 patients on Monday.
She said she worries about what will come in these critical weeks around the holidays and how many more patients will come through Parkland's doors.
"Do we physically have enough of the workforce, enough of the skilled workforce, to really provide the level of care that we need?" Rowley asked. "How do we keep our staff and family safe?"
She said watching her team provide life-saving care around the clock while working through their own fatigue keeps her going.
"It's incredible to be reminded every day that I get to work with folks that keep coming back, so they make it all worthwhile," she said.
Yet, her toughest moments often come when she returns home to her four children, ranging in age from 4 to 9. She said her oldest have questions.
"The hardest thing through all of it -- they ask if we have a lot of loss or death because they see it on the news," Rowley said. "So I've been transparent with them, but it's hard to come home, live it every single day and then come home to talk about it."
She stressed that people's lives and the toll taken on her team depend on how the North Texas community responds to efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
"The masks -- I cannot stress enough the masks and the handwashing. The lack of that will be what topples the health care system and makes this unmanageable," Rowley said.
Rowley urged the North Texas community as a whole to keep fighting the virus.
"This is a time for us to really remember what we can do for each other and really help each other and help humanity," Rowley said.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.