Dr. Kenneth Krell, 71, was driving to East Idaho’s largest intensive care unit in Idaho Falls on a Saturday.

It was supposed to be his day off. He had been working shifts of 36 hours, with 12 hours off. But when he received a phone call saying the ICU was overwhelmed, he immediately agreed to come in.

“Driving in, it just occurred to me how beleaguered our staff seemed and what remarkable people they are,” Krell told The Idaho Statesman by phone Friday. “We have been through a lot. And we keep persevering.”

After arriving at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, he made his way to the staff whiteboard and scrawled a message to his co-workers.

“In the end what sustains us, and what we will remember about having survived this madness, are the remarkable people who endured this with us, the best of humanity — all of us — who demonstrated the best of our calling. We endured this together, and supported each other. We saved lives and lost lives, and we did both with compassion and competence. We will not forget this.”

Krell’s words struck a chord. And not just at his hospital. A colleague shared a photo of the note on Facebook, which was then shared further by others. A photo of the note has been viewed more than 1.3 million times and liked 20,000 times on Twitter. The message has made its way to Instagram and a page for nurses on Reddit.

Advertising

Message reaches health care workers across the U.S.

Many of those moved by Krell’s words were people who identified themselves online as health care workers. Some said they were brought to tears, while others said they planned to post the message in their own hospital.

“This captures perfectly how we all feel,” tweeted Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, a respiratory specialist in Indiana. “Upset that we are in this mess. And nevertheless bolstered by the challenge. And thankful for those who are battling with us.”

Krell has been a relentless advocate for preventive COVID-19 measures in East Idaho, home to some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. While talking about his co-workers, whom he calls “the most remarkable people,” he choked up and stopped for a moment.

The pandemic has only gotten harder for them, he said. He recalled the early era of the pandemic when they were treated like heroes. He remembered when his staff still had hope that a vaccine would bring things back to normal.

Those days seem long ago.

“I think we all have some commonality that the public (is no longer) our allies,” Krell said. “But, in instances that are surprising, patients sometimes have some real hostility. They say they couldn’t have COVID, that this is all a lie, even as we’re getting ready to intubate them.”

Hospital staff lean on each other as COVID-19 cases rise

A number of people on social media commented that Krell’s message was something you’d expect to hear “working in a war zone,” not a rural Idaho hospital. Twitter users said its tone sounded “like a battle speech,” “like a combat unit,” and “what you say about people pinned down by enemy fire in a foxhole, not hospital staff.”

“I don’t know, I don’t have any experience with war,” Krell said of those comments. “I do know that my friends who have been in battle tell me that what gets them through an actual war isn’t some higher philosophy of some greater cause. But rather, it’s the soldier standing next to you that you want to protect. It feels like that for us in health care.”

More on the COVID-19 pandemic