The recent surge in new U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are taking a mental toll on nurses and health professionals like Mississippi-based intensive care nurse Nichole Atherton, who are working at a frenetic pace to keep up.
"To watch someone suffer for weeks, unable to eat, unable to drink, struggling for every breath - it changes you." On the verge of tears, Nichole Atherton has reached her breaking point.
"Watching someone die, more than that: coding someone, doing chest compressions on someone, breaking their ribs - when you know there's no hope for them.
You know if you get them back that all you're doing is delaying the inevitable.
It feels like torturing people.
I don't want to do that.
I don't." The intensive care nurse watched helplessly last year as COVID-19 sufferers died in her Mississippi hospital - slowly, painfully and alone... Then in July she was again confronted with a wave of deathly ill patients.
It's the deaths that stick with Atherton..... long after her shift ends.
"I see these people over and over again when I try and sleep, suffering, and I hear their last words.
It's a big burden to bear to hear someone's last words." New daily coronavirus cases in the United States have hit a six-month high, with the seven-day average reaching nearly 95,000.
That rate is five times higher than it was less than a month ago, according to Reuters data.
Nurses and doctors on the frontlines of America's hospitals are once again getting worn down as the Delta variant spreads rapidly where vaccination rates are the lowest.
Doctors, nurses and hospital leaders interviewed by Reuters in six states described a workforce that is depleted and demoralized by wards overflowing with mostly unvaccinated patients.
Some, like Atherton, are turning to social media and finding other ways to speak out.
"It's frustrating to hear people call us heroes and thank us when that's great, and we appreciate that, but what we need is for people to wear masks and get vaccines.
That's how we want to be thanked for fighting through this, is for people to protect themselves and protect us from it."