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'Numb', 'grief', 'fatigued': Health care workers sum up COVID-19 in one word. What's yours?

From sorrowful to uncertain, medical staff share one word to explain what the public needs to know about their fight to save lives from COVID.

ATLANTA — As we wrap up 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic continues, infection rates soar and hospitals around the country reach capacity. Health care workers are still battling this virus every day trying to save lives. 

Concerned, determined, critical, drained and even hope were just some of the words that came to mind for health care workers in north Georgia when asked to sum up how COVID-19 made them feel. 

Dr. Jennifer Barbieri, a pulmonary critical care physician, specializes in the respiratory system, the very system under attack when COVID-19 infects your body.

Back in September, Dr. Barbieri first sat down for an interview with 11Alive's Reveal Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom, to give a frontline perspective of how hospitals were handling the virus. 

RELATED: 1,000 empty chairs set up on lawn of Georgia Capitol to represent state's COVID-19 victims

Credit: Harbin Clinic Marketing

“I'm sorry that for a lot of people it feels political. But for us inside the walls of the hospitals, it is not political,” Dr. Barbieri, who works for the Harbin Clinic in Floyd County, making rounds at the areas two large hospitals, Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional, explained.

Three months after that first meeting, the situation is worse with nearly a third of all patients in north Georgia being treated for COVID-19.

“There are more pumps outside of the rooms. The hospitals have had to get creative about space and modifying spaces, patients holding in emergency rooms, waiting on beds. And so we are at a critical point where resources could be limited quickly," Dr. Barbieri said. 

That’s why Lindstrom again sat down with Barbieri for her perspective. But this time the doctor wasn’t alone.

Before the interview, Harbin Clinic helped us gather those words from medical staff working with COVID-19 patients.

“I think if more people could really understand what these people are doing every day and feeling every day, they would realize we need help,” Dr. Barbieri reflected upon the words written.

One person held a piece of paper that said fearful. Another said grief.

► What's your word? Post it on our 11Alive Facebook page, tweet using #COVIDoneword or text it to us at 404-885-7600. 

“You hear more discussions among health care workers about the level of fatigue. They're being asked to do more because it's necessary. We need shifts covered,” Dr. Barbieri explained.

Lindstrom asked how many of the words Dr. Barbieri could relate to. Her answer, “I think all of them.”

One word written, was numb.

“I know that person well and he has been in the COVID-19 unit voluntarily since March, serving faithfully," Dr. Barbieri said. 

“There’s some really good things about some of these words. Teamwork for example. There is more team mentality than we’ve ever had. It takes a team to take care of these patients," Dr. Barbieri explained.

Dr. Barbieri says hospital staff is giving 110 percent every day and they need the community to do the same.

“Wearing your mask, whether you like it or not, social distancing, washing your hands, and avoiding large gatherings. I think that's crucial right now," Dr. Barbieri said. 

Dr. Barbieri had her own word in the montage of photos - Discouraged.

“I had a lady just a few days ago that needed to be intubated and she said, can I call my husband before we do this? And she had lost her mother to Covid just a few days prior in the same hospital. And she died the next day after the last words out of her mouth was just whatever you do, please don't let me die. And that plays over and over again," Dr. Barbieri said. 

Perhaps that same feeling is what prompted another doctor to write – what if.

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Credit: Harbin Clinic Marketing

Dr. Barbieri says she’s become a master at compartmentalizing to keep the stress of her work from spilling over into her personal life. But even as she recalls stories of loss, she has to fight back the tears.

“I know the victories are out there and I think we are sending more people home. But it's just the sheer volume right now that is just so discouraging," the Doctor explained. 

She says the number of people needing intensive care right now is dwarfing even her ability to emotionally walk away.

“My heart just feels heavier, heavier, day-to-day, and because I can't push all of this out and I guess I feel more distracted when I go home, um, I feel like I can't give my husband and children what they need. There's not much left of me at the end of the day," Dr. Barbieri said. 

The doctor posed this question even to her daughters. What was their one word? Her oldest came up with a phrase, “I miss my mommy.”

RELATED: 'Dear Lifesaver, You are tired': Daughter's note to mom battling COVID on the front line

But out of all of the words randomly written, there was only one that came up twice. That word was – hope.

“I’m putting my hope in the vaccine,” said Barbieri with a smile in her eye. “I'm praying that that's my Christmas present. It would be the best Christmas present I could get right now," Dr. Barbieri said. 

What's your word? Post it on our 11Alive Facebook page, tweet using #COVIDoneword or text it to us at 404-885-7600.