Olivia Davis has spent much of the last 14 months zipping up COVID-19 casualties in body bags.
She is among frontline medical workers who, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, witnessed a lifetime’s worth of gruesome deaths in the course of a typical week.
“Sometimes I prayed for sanity,” said Davis, who works as a charge nurse at Atrium Health Pineville. “What added to my stress was the fact that my husband has an autoimmune disease. When the whole COVID thing started, he was on medications that suppress his immune system. I was just so scared that I would bring the virus home. My heart would jump if I felt the slightest tickle in my throat.”
Davis credits her faith and the support of her family for helping her cope. Davis is a wife and mother of three children. She attends the South English Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Charlotte.
“I carry a Bible in my backpack,” Davis said. “I believe it is the way God speaks to us.”
Davis started working with COVID patients in April 2020. She said when the Progressive ICU was converted into a COVID unit, 95% of the patients she cared for had the virus.
“It was difficult to see people struggling to breathe and realize that you can do nothing else for them,” she said. “I remember feeling very anxious and praying to God a lot. I found comfort and encouragement in scriptures that told me God would help me get through this and give me endurance and strength to be strong for others.”
Her family has helped Davis through the worst of the pandemic.
“The kids gave me extra hugs and kisses when I came home,” Davis said. “They could see on my face how stressed I was. We would talk as a family about what I was going through, and that really helped.”
During the worst of the pandemic, Davis said her spiritual focus helped her and other frontline medical workers in her religious community battle through the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic.
“What healthcare workers are experiencing is akin to domestic combat,” Andrew J. Smith, Ph.D., director of the University of Utah Health Occupational Trauma Program at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, said in a press release from his institution.
According to a study conducted by Smith’s group, more than half of the doctors, nurses and emergency responders providing COVID-19 care could be at risk for one or more mental health problems, including acute traumatic stress, depression and anxiety.
Davis said her local congregation mobilized to support her.
“They sent texts, cards, called, FaceTimed, and Zoomed – all to help me not to give up.”
With their encouragement, Davis found respite as she continued to worship with them regularly online, joined ministry groups on Zoom and intensified her prayers.
“If I didn’t have this spiritual association virtually, who knows?” said Davis. “The amount of depression that has come out of this is horrible. You hear stories of other people who don’t recover. It’s comforting knowing that people care for you as an individual.”
Davis said to fill up her spiritual tank, driving to and from the hospital she listens to uplifting religious songs and audio recordings of the scriptures on JW Library, a free phone app.
“This keeps me focused and calm,” she said. “I look at it as God talking to me on my way to work and back.”
Although the fear in the eyes of her severe COVID patients remains etched into her memory, Davis said she finds peace in the Bible’s promise that God will end sickness and pain and even bring the dead back to life.
“I imagine all those patients who died, resurrected in Paradise,” she said.
When Davis was surrounded by death, she recalled scriptures of comfort, peace and hope. She never forgets to pray and be thankful for her family of faith.
“God is going to get me through this,” she said.