By Kristina Rex

WORCESTER (CBS) — Healthcare workers are no strangers to skipping traditions with family to work a holiday. In 2020, it’s a different experience, especially for those working on COVID-19 floors in hospitals.

“It’s pretty tough in here today,” nurse Shannon Lora told WBZ over Zoom from the CCU at HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster.

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“It’s a horrible day here actually. We have a lot of very sick patients. We have a couple of people dying. It has not been a very good day.”

Lora has been a nurse for 23 years and says fighting the pandemic on the front lines since March has been unlike any other. [COVID-19 is] “just a horrible way to be sick, it’s a horrible way to die,” she said. “It’s tough. It’s been tough on all of us here.”

Lora and hundreds of healthcare workers put their personal lives aside to take care of tens of thousands of patients fighting coronavirus.

Lora’s five boys waited at home until she was out of work late on Christmas to open their gifts. “They know where I need to be and they’re understanding about that,” she explained.

The same is true for Dr. Kathryn Waksmundzki-Silva, a physician at UMass Memorial in Worcester, who celebrated Christmas early with her family and young daughter so she could work on the actual holiday, caring for COVID patients. “It’s hard to see especially on Christmas, especially when these patients can’t have families at their bedside,” she said.

Dr. Waksmundzki-Silva told WBZ she had to have tough conversations with families on Christmas Day over Facetime about the declining health of their loved ones.

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“You feel guilty,” she said. “There’s a lot of guilt that you can’t delay the inevitable even though it’s Christmas.”

Lora experienced similar situations with dying patients on Christmas Day. “I was literally just setting up a FaceTime call for somebody who isn’t doing well,” she explained. “It’s just a horrible feeling. I know I get to go home to my family. They’re not going to have that option today and that’s just horrible.”

Lora explained that it’s hard for people to understand the trauma behind the hospital walls when all they see on a daily basis are statistics and numbers surrounding infections and deaths.

“We go by the people who are here, and the families at home, and the FaceTime calls.”

Dr. Waksmundzki-Silva noted the same thing — and said she hopes people can understand their experience, and why it’s so important to social distance. “One holiday away from your loved ones to be able to potentially celebrate with them in the future is a small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things,” she said.

Still, despite the daily trauma, these healthcare heroes see a light at the end of the tunnel. At HealthAlliance in Leominster, the nurses put big letters up in the window that read “RISE” visible from the main road.

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“We’re going to rise above this and we’re going to move on and we’re going to get through this,” Lora said.

Kristina Rex