As we reach the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re reminded of the value of provider stories. During the first surge, these stories were shared frequently by hospitals and the media. As the pandemic has worn on, we’ve heard far fewer accounts of what it’s like to work on the front lines. But those stories are still out there, waiting to be told. To illustrate their power, Carolyn Souza, RN, was kind enough to share her story with us.
Before we hear from Souza, here’s a quick reminder of why provider stories matter:
- Firsthand accounts from providers humanize your hospital and build community trust.
- People are interested in what’s going on inside hospitals right now, so sharing provider insights—via social media, on a blog or in a newsletter or annual report—will engage your community.
- Highlighting your providers shows staff that you appreciate their contributions and sacrifices.
An RN’s perspective
For seven years, Souza—who has a rambunctious two-year-old at home and expects her second child any day now—has been working two 12-hour shifts and one eight-hour shift weekly in the emergency department at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Below, she shares what the pandemic has been like for her, a pregnant nurse caring for COVID-19 patients in the busy ED of a major urban hospital.
Wainscot Health: What’s the hardest thing about caring for COVID-19 patients?
Carolyn Souza: The typical ED flow, even when we’re not in a pandemic, is very challenging. COVID-19 is an added stress and physical burden. On and off with PPE, on your feet for 12 hours, wearing a mask for 12 hours. These are hard things to do. Being pregnant adds another level of difficulty.
To conserve PPE, you do your best minimize the number of times you go into a COVID patient’s room, but reasons always come up to reenter. Maybe the telemetry monitor is beeping, or it could be the IV pump. Or the patient has to go to the bathroom or has a question. Each time, you have to don and doff PPE. Sometimes, you come out and doff, look across the hall and see another patient call light on. Then you have to do it all over again.
Honestly, though, the hardest thing is telling family they can’t be present with the patient. When someone shows up in the ED, they’re sick and feeling vulnerable. They want someone with them. But this virus has stripped that from patients. I don’t think people know how devastating it is for us healthcare workers to tell families they’re not allowed in. Understandably, a lot of people get really upset. That’s been challenging to see—it gets emotional for me. It’s hard, but we know it’s for the best.
WH: How has the mood in the ED changed since the start of the pandemic?
CS: There have been mixed emotions over the past year. During last spring’s surge we were all fresh and ready for it. Our morale was: We’ve got this, we can get through this together. With second surge, the feeling that we have each other’s backs is still there, but the fresh feeling isn’t. Now it’s a been a year since we had the first COVID patient in Boston. We’re fatigued. None of us expected last March that we’d be where we are a year later.
In one way, working through this huge crisis together has made our team closer. In another way, we’re not as close. We can’t talk with our friends on breaks now, so we’re not as in tune with each other’s lives. You have to sit alone at a table. That has been difficult.
WH: What do you do to keep safe outside of work?
CS: I come home, immediately change out of scrubs, immediately shower. I don’t touch anything in my house. I put my scrubs in the wash the second I get home so they’re not hanging around for my two-year-old son to grab. I never wear my work shoes in the house—they’re kept in the garage at all times.
Whenever I’m out, I’m wearing a mask. Even walking in the neighborhood people wear masks, which is great. I’m doing more frequent handwashing than I’ve ever done, even in my own home. My husband, Mike, is a firefighter, so he’s at increased risk of exposure, too, although they wear masks at the firehouse and on every call. There’s still a worry we could bring the virus home, but we follow the guidelines that have been set, so we should be safe.
WH: Has the pandemic changed how you feel about being a nurse?
CS: Yes, it definitely has. It’s been a wild ride. I’m sure it has for everybody. But looking back, I still absolutely love nursing and wouldn’t change what I chose for a career. The pandemic has made me realize how vital my career is in the community. While it’s a bummer to miss professional sports, for example, we can live without them. My job is one the community can’t live without. It’s rewarding to know that.
For more on how Brigham Health providers and leaders responded to the COVID-19 crisis, watch Reflections from the COVID-19 Front Line.
Looking for other ways to connect the communities you serve with your staff? Check out the “Faces of” publication Wainscot created for TriHealth!