Battling the Unseen Scars: A Nurse Leader’s Account of Horrific PTSD from COVID-19

As a nurse leader on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed the devastating toll the virus has taken on patients, families, and my fellow healthcare workers. There were so many gut-wrenching realities faced by nurses during this unprecedented crisis, and horrifying experiences that have left lasting scars on their mental health.

From heart-wrenching scenes in overwhelmed ICUs to the haunting cries of patients struggling for breath, I recount the harrowing journey of nurses who bravely stood in the face of unimaginable suffering.

Descent into the Darkness

Follow Tonika Bruce and Brandi’s story as talks about the beginning of crisis from a nurse’s perspective, learn more here

In the early days of the pandemic, our healthcare facility quickly transformed into a real-life battleground. 

Our overflow units became ICUs and housekeepers became nursing aides and that became a grim reality, with patients gasping for air while ventilators strained to keep up. 

As a nurse leader, I witnessed the emotional toll on my colleagues as they juggled between treating critically ill patients and coping with their own fears.


The once bustling corridors were now silent, except for the beeping of monitors that echoed like haunting reminders of the battles fought within the walls. -D.A, CNO, MBA, MSN, RN

The Agony of Helplessness

The shortage of essential supplies like ventilators and PPE only added to the agony of healthcare workers. Having to decide who received life-saving treatment and who did not was an unbearable burden for nurses who took an oath to preserve life.


I can still see the tear-filled eyes of my fellow nurses, grappling with the weight of impossible choices, as they fought to give their patients a fighting chance amid scarce resources. A. Buchanan, BSN, RN, USA

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Bearing Witness to Solitude and Sorrow

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect was witnessing the pain of isolation endured by patients and their families. Countless patients spent their final moments separated from loved ones, leaving nurses to become their surrogate family in their most vulnerable hours.


I remember holding the hand of a dying patient, their eyes filled with sorrow as they whispered final messages to their family over a shaky phone connection, yearning for a touch they couldn’t receive. E. M, RN, Netherlands


To follow Laarni’s gut wrenching pandemic experiences and dealing with illness, learn more here.

The Ongoing Nightmare of Post-Traumatic Stress

As a nurse leader, I felt responsible for guiding my team through the storm. Yet, the horrors of COVID-19 seeped into my own psyche, leaving deep emotional scars. The constant fear of contracting the virus, the overwhelming workload, and the relentless scenes of suffering took a toll on my mental health and that of my fellow nurses.


Sleepless nights became the norm, as images of those heart-wrenching moments replayed in my mind like a never-ending nightmare, leaving me emotionally drained and haunted by the specters of the pandemic. Nichole Williams, RN-BC

The Path to Healing and Hope

While the scars of COVID-19 may never fully fade, there is hope for healing and resilience. Acknowledging the trauma and providing psychological support are crucial steps in helping nurses cope with the aftermath of the pandemic.

Action Steps for Support:

  1. Establish comprehensive mental health programs that offer counseling and therapy for healthcare workers, including nurse leaders, to address PTSD and related psychological issues.
  2. Foster a culture of open communication and compassion within healthcare institutions, allowing nurses to share their experiences and find solace in a supportive community.
  3. Advocate for government and institutional initiatives that prioritize mental health resources and create safe spaces for nurses to process their emotions and trauma.

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As a nurse leader who has experienced the horrors of COVID-19 firsthand, I stand witness to the indomitable spirit of nurses who braved the storm and sacrificed their well-being to care for others. 

The toll of this pandemic will forever be etched in our hearts, and the scars will remain as a poignant reminder of the resilience of healthcare workers.

Moving forward, it is essential that we confront the emotional aftermath and prioritize the mental health of nurses and healthcare workers. Together, we can foster a culture of healing and compassion, ensuring that those who gave so selflessly during this crisis are not left to battle the unseen scars of PTSD alone. May their bravery and strength inspire us to build a more supportive and resilient future for our healthcare heroes.

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