Nurse reflects on changes after a year of coronavirus

At AdventHealth, the best sign isn't who's still in the intensive care unit on Fletcher Avenue, but who isn't.

"Patients would a lot of times not leave these rooms for a long time," said head COVID ICU nurse Nick Clark. "This area has been empty for about a week."

When COVID-19 first hit Tampa Bay, their COVID ICU filled to more than 50 people.  

Today, there are only three.

COVID ICU nurse Nick Clark

Clark says the biggest change - aside from the vaccines - has been treatments for patients before they have to be admitted. 

National Nurses Week: Restaurants, brands offer freebies and discounts

Antiretroviral treatments have stopped the worst symptoms before someone has to be put on a ventilator.

"You can use some non-invasive methods first," said Clark. "Once those fail, then you can go a little further. It's more fine-tuning."

There is another reason medical professionals have improved treatment. Some of them, like Clark, have endured COVID-19 themselves.  

Last week, he was in bed for a week, and learned something that's hard to teach in a classroom.

RELATED: National Nurses Day is Thursday, beginning a weeklong celebration of the profession

"Compassion," he said. "Really understanding that these patients are scared, they're isolated."

Sometimes, the only thing they hear at night is the sound of the giant tubes that pull air through the room.  

That, and the sound and touch of their nurse.

"Really being the hand that they hold or the person they can rely on to talk to and say, ‘Hey, I know you are having a rough day, but really, overall, you are doing better,’" Clark explained.

It's a message we all hope our community gets soon enough.