Three thousand pounds of crawfish were boiling in the parking lot of the Ochsner Medical Center on Thursday as medical workers lined up for a reprieve from their busy schedules and a much-needed glimpse of normalcy.

Volunteers set up vats of propane-powered tanks on the backs of two trailers, pulling basket after basket of crawfish out as Ochsner employees took short shifts to eat and, more importantly, see some of their colleagues for the first time in months.

“They just work so hard and have been through so much,” said Caroline Gray, marketing manager for Louisiana Fish Fry, the Baton Rouge-based company that provided Thursday’s food as a donation. “Having the opportunity for them to enjoy crawfish is just the most normal thing in the spring in Louisiana.”

Thursday’s lunch comes as the hospitalizations from COVID-19 have steeply dropped since facilities saw their highest points in January, when vaccines just became available for the the state's most vulnerable adults. The downtrend has been welcome breather for hospital workers, especially those working closely with the sickest patients.

Impacts from the pandemic have been especially difficult for frontline health workers who’ve seen up-close the grim realities of the virus that’s suspected in the deaths of 10,000 people in Louisiana.

“At one point it became so depressing for us to see so many deaths,” said respiratory therapist Byron Daigle.

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Along with checking patient’s oxygen levels, therapists like Daigle are tasked with monitoring and adjusting ventilators, which are often a last resort for COVID-19 patients who aren’t improving.

Often they develop a close relationship with their patients, as well as their families, which makes losses that much harder.

“It takes a toll on you,” Daigle said.

For pharmacy manager Renesha Yarbrough, the last time she can even remember going to a crawfish boil was in 2019. After months of working long days with a mask and unable to visit much with colleagues, Thursday’s lunch was much-needed.

“It’s a morale booster and we need to do it more often,” Yarbrough said.

Email Youssef Rddad at, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad