BEMIDJI, Minn. Elizabeth Burud went into the patient’s room to draw blood. She left with tears in her eyes and a new appreciation for what COVID-19 victims and their loved ones are going through.

Burud, a 22-year-old nursing student at Bemidji State University, also works as a phlebotomist at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. She was recently assigned to a COVID-19 patient in the hospital’s Special Care Unit. As a co-worker drew blood, Burud held the man’s hand and tried to keep him calm. It was her first interaction with a COVID-infected person, and it made her think of her own family, many of whom live 3,000 miles away in Alaska.

“I felt a mix of emotions after I was in there holding this patient’s hand,” she said. “I immediately just thought about my mom and my grandma and my aunts and uncles who are up there. Alaska is having a really bad outbreak right now. My grandma lost like six of her friends in a week, and I think only one or two were not COVID related.

"It’s really easy to be an ignorant young person who wants to just say it’s not a big deal. But when you’re in it and you’re seeing how it affects these people, whether they’re elderly or middle aged or even young, all I could think about was my own family, and the fact that if this were to happen to them, there’s nothing that I could do.”

Instead of doing nothing, Burud decided to write about her experience. She penned a 189-word story, stopping between sentences to wipe away more tears. She posted the story on social media, and received words of encouragement and thanks for her work as a health care provider.

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“But that’s not the point that I wanted to make with it,” she said. “It was trying to shed light on the severity and the loneliness and the death that’s happening. It was a mixture of sadness and empathy and anger and frustration and panic all rolled up into one.”

Burud said when she talks with fellow students and friends about the virus, many of them suggest it affects mostly the elderly.

“That’s not the point,” she tells them. “The point is it could be your grandma, your mom. And I have people that I grew up with who are in their 20s, college athletes with full-ride scholarships who got this and they can’t even run a mile because their respiratory system got so wiped out.”

Although she was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Burud’s family has Bemidji roots. Her great-great-grandfather was A.P. Ritchie, the city’s superintendent of schools from 1904 to 1910. Ritchie was given much credit for bringing what is now Bemidji State University to town.

When Elizabeth was 16 years old, she made her first visit to Bemidji with her grandmother, Ida Burud. Ida wanted to show her granddaughter the town where she grew up. A tour of Bemidji State was included in the trip.

“I had known I wanted to be a nurse since I was very young,” Elizabeth said. “I fell in love with the campus and the area.” Now in her fourth year at the school, she expects to graduate in 2022 with a degree in nursing and leadership.

I held this hand

Here is Elizabeth’s unedited story about her recent experience at the hospital:

“Yesterday I held a hand. A hand that was attached to Covid. A hand that was alone. I went in yesterday. Not just on the floor, but in the rooms. I held a hand that was confused, unable to speak. As my coworker did the job. I held this hand. I told that face to just look at me. Just keep looking at me. This face spoke. It said ‘no’ to the poke. My partner explained why we needed to draw blood. The face said ‘ok’. I held the hand and saw the panicked face as the poke happened. Just keep looking at me I kept saying. I smiled and the face smiled. I said hi and the face said hi. The hand resisted me letting go when the job was done. I held on for awhile longer. I started to let go again but the resistance of the hand was weak. The hand tried to hold on. It was weak. I had to go. I had to help others. I stepped back. Watching the face fall back asleep as I walk away. Unaware of the world once again.”