Why this ICU nurse stood up to people protesting stay-at-home orders

(PHOENIX) — BY: ALLIE YANG

On her day off from caring for patients in the Banner Health COVID-19 unit, intensive care unit nurse Lauren Leander went to the Arizona State Capitol to meet those protesting the state’s stay-at-home order.

She stood in a silent protest as, she said, people approached her enraged.

“They did not hesitate to walk right up to us — and to even stand within 1 or 2 feet of us — and tell us exactly what they thought,” she told “The View” Thursday about the Phoenix rally on April 20. “These people were heated and angry.”

She told ABC News’ Amy Robach she understood their anger, saying “we were not there to discredit their suffering” and that “we saw them as our patients.”

“We were able to sort of take a back seat and really just be a witness to their story and their suffering and what they had to say,” she said.

“We wanted to be there as a voice for health care workers, and we wanted to be heard and seen louder than a lot of the misinformation and fear that has sort of been sweeping the nation with this movement to open too soon,” Leander said.

Some of the stay-at-home protesters coughed on her and the other nurses she was with, Leander said.

She said, “One of the big themes [was] they thought we were paid actors, that we were planted there by a hospital or by the government and we were told not to speak and just stand there in costume.”‘

“There were also people trying to bait us away from the protest and saying, ‘Oh hey, somebody needs help over there. If you are a real nurse, you’ll go help them,’ and a few of us left to check out the situation, and someone was sitting under a tree laughing at us,” she said.

In addition, she said, many were openly carrying guns.

“There were large, strong men fully masked carrying assault rifles that were walking past us, and taking photos with us,” she said.

Leander pointed out that many health care workers’ lives have been put on hold for COVID-19.

“Even as people slowly ease into going back to normal, you know, we are not,” she said. “We are still self-isolating. A lot of us haven’t seen our family in months, and, you know, [we’re] just trying to bring the reality of the other side of this virus to protesters.”

Leander also said that while some numbers and forecasts may appear to indicate it’s safe to reopen, these figures are only showing part of the picture.

“If you were able to step in these COVID units, you would see how labor-intensive these very sick individuals are. It’s unlike anything we have ever seen,” she said. “They’re on upwards of eight to 12 drips at a time … we need a team of seven people to prone them, to flip them on their stomach, every two to four hours so that they can breathe better. They’re medically paralyzed, so they are forced to breathe with a ventilator. A lot of them are on continuous dialysis.”

“Nurses are scared to watch their states open up,” she said, adding that they are treating some of “the sickest patients that I have ever cared for in my life.”

As the state and nation begins to reopen, she said health care workers will need to care for patients for other issues like car accidents and non-coronavirus illnesses in “critical care units with COVID patients in them already.”

Leander said she hopes Arizonans will “not forget that this virus is going to be very real for a lot of people for a very long time,” especially for “vulnerable populations.”

“Their fight with this virus is just beginning and won’t be over for quite a while,” she said.

“I pray that they see that wearing masks and still practicing social distancing and hand washing as much as possible is really just them fighting alongside us still,” she said.

“I just hope that no matter what their stance on this virus, if they showed up in our ICU tomorrow, we would welcome them with open arms and we would care for them like we would anybody else,” she added.

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