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Why I Stay: A Nurse’s Experience Taking Care of Coronavirus Patients

Registered nurse Meredith Farmer standing in front of a hospital room, wearing PPE
RN Meredith Farmer at work one recent evening. Contributed photo.

Registered nurse Meredith Farmer contributed this post. She works on UVA Medical Center’s general medicine unit and has been caring for patients with coronavirus.

On a normal day, we on 3 West pride ourselves on being an unusually close team. I have worked on this unit for almost five years.

Throughout that time, so many people have complimented our staff on the camaraderie and teamwork that goes on here. It’s the main reason why I chose to work here.

No More Normal

We all refer to these days as a “new normal.” In early March, we learned that our amazing nurse manager would be taking on a new role as nursing director. On top of that, she was pregnant and would soon be out on maternity leave.

Even though we were all so sad to see her move on, we knew we would be in safe hands under the trusty leadership of our interim nurse manager, Scott Austin. But we had no idea our worlds were about to be flipped upside down.

My extremely pregnant new nursing director, Leigh Gauriloff, waddled all over the third floor working hard to prepare her team for all that was about to change. I am in awe of her strength. She took on this new job role in the most unprecedented of times. What a woman. What a hero.

Leigh welcomed her beautiful, healthy baby a little earlier than expected. What a relief to receive this good news during a time when everything seemed so scary and uncertain!

As we celebrated a new addition to our work family, we also realized that things were going to be very different moving forward.

Our institution would be taking major steps in preparation for a potential influx of patients.

Our Biggest Cheerleader

Enter Scott Austin.

If you know him, you know how lucky you are. As a long-time member of the 3 West family, Scott has grown up on this unit. He started as a patient care assistant, became a nurse, then grew into the assistant nurse manager role. He’s always been our biggest cheerleader, mentor, and leader.

Not only was he taking on new responsibilities in his interim nurse manager position, he was forced to do so during a global pandemic – unprecedented and unpredictable.

We began to transform 3 West into an acute care special pathogens unit (SPU). We started by moving general medicine patients elsewhere, then emptied the back of our unit in order to admit COVID-positive patients. Eventually, we admitted only COVID-19 patients.

During this time, my heart ached as I watched my team work with uncertainty behind their eyes. We quickly had to learn how to take care of a new population of patients.

I watched as my new interim nurse manager faced challenge after challenge. I watched as my coworkers asked hard questions, with genuine concern in their voices.

Acts of Leadership

I watched as Scott lead frequent huddles to relay information to staff. He answered our passionate and furious questions the best he could. When he couldn’t, he escalated them until he had an answer.

I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that small, but profound act of leadership. Sometimes we don’t realize what a gift it is to be heard.

A mighty leadership team worked behind the scenes during this transition. They choose to include staff in crucial conversations and the development of new processes. From morning debriefing huddles, to escalating bedside concerns, these people make our lives easier.

I’ve watched new nurses gear up in personal protective equipment (PPE).

I’ve watched as seasoned nurses come into work, afraid of what they may potentially bring home to their families.

I’ve watched nurses I once mentored stay at the bedside of dying patients, to ensure they won’t be alone in their final moments.

More Changes

Just when we were finally starting to get the hang of it, our world was turned upside down once again.

We needed to clear out 3 West and move to the new south tower, in order to consolidate special pathogens unit patients and prepare to bring back general medicine patients in the main hospital.

In less than a week, we moved our home, our headquarters, and renamed ourselves “5 South.”

I can’t even explain all the preparation that went into this move. So many of our staff and 3 Central colleagues made sure pathways were in place to make this transition as seamless as possible.

Lessons Learned

I wish I had just one profound, inspirational story to tell you. The truth is, it’s all been profound.

I listen to my coworkers and friends tell me about their fears, through quivering voices and tear-filled eyes. I try to reassure them that we are safe, when in actuality, I’m unsure myself.

Yet, each day we show up and give amazing care to each other and our patients.

My heart overflows with joy as I hear my team members’ requests to recognize others. The selflessness of this group is something I will forever be proud of.

Looking Forward

I am truly hopeful that one day soon this will all be over. In some ways, our lives will go back to normal. The muscle memory will take over and we will resume life just as it used to be.

But, in other ways, we will never be the same. Some of us have aged – tired and weary from hard work and worry. Some of us grew stronger from the challenges and hardships.

Need Medical Care?

We’ve put safety measures in place so we can see more patients in person.

I will forever feel a deep love and appreciation for my team. No one understands you quite like your work family understands you. I’m thankful for a healthy, strong unit – one that withstands even the toughest of times.

Choosing to Rise

Thank you to the medical ICU team, who pioneered the critical care special pathogens unit and taught us along the way.

Thank you to our sister, 3 Central, who helped us staff our special pathogens unit on many occasions, and for your service as an overflow unit.

Thank you to all of those who jumped in to take care of unfamiliar patient populations. We’re thankful that you chose to rise to the occasion.

Finally, to my 3 West (5 South) family: Thank you for your perseverance, flexibility, vulnerability and unwavering support for each other and those around you.

Thank you for reminding me why I stay.

Tags: covid-19

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