PHOENIX — More than a year into the pandemic, Valleywise Health nurse Kendal Gribler still deals with her share of COVID patients.
"Yes, there are very sick COVID patients here today," Gribler said.
Gribler works in the COVID ICU at Valleywise Health Medical Center, which recently reopened a second COVID unit due to an uptick in patients. According to the state's coronavirus dashboard, COVID hospitalizations remain far lower than at the peak in January and among the lowest since the state started tracking the metric.
"It's still one of those things where you come into work every day not knowing what to expect," she said.
Many of Gribler's patients stay in her memory.
"There's been a couple of cases where I've held the phone to a patient's ear while they're getting their last rites over the phone," she said. "That's just heartbreaking. There's no way to describe it. You can't help but sit there and cry with them."
Thursday marked National Nurses Day, and Valleywise Health saw an influx of flowers thanks to Albertsons and Safeway.
"It was really nice, they were so happy," said Nurse Manager Regina Villa. "We gave it to every single nurse, not every single nurse, but every single nurse we ran into. It was nice. They felt happy, there was a lot of smiles."
Still, Villa told ABC15 the pandemic continues to strain the system, with staffing shortages, the continued number of COVID patients and staff fatigue.
ABC15 asked what keeps her going.
"What else are we going to do?" Villa said. "It's not what keeps us going like we don't have a choice but to keep going. There's no other option because who else is going to do it?"
Even as the number of coronavirus patients isn't what it was months ago, Gribler can pinpoint certain situations that stayed with her.
"One patient in particular that sticks out in my mind...she didn't want to get intubated, but it got to the point where she really felt like she couldn't breathe and then the doctors were basically telling her, like if we don't intubate you there's a chance you won't make it out of here," she said. "She asked if she could call her family and say goodbye and they said yep, and she did, and we're all standing around watching while she's FaceTiming her family."
That would be the last time the patient talked with their loved ones.
"She ended up not making it," Gribler said, getting emotional. "It's things like that, that's just...it's real."
Despite the difficult days, Gribler said she is proud of what she and her colleagues are doing.
"I wouldn't do anything else," she said. "I wouldn't change this for the world. This job, anyways."