Keri von Rosenberg remembers trying to make sense of what her job would be like when COVID-19 first hit in early 2020. The labor and delivery nurse at Baylor Scott & White’s Lakeway hospital remembers the constantly changing protocols and the rising levels of stress across the hospital.
“It was a scary time,” she said. “There was a lot of changes and things to get used to.”
Her unit, which is usually a happy place, has had patients sick with COVID-19 as they were having babies.
Von Rosenberg’s anxiety increased even more when she learned her father was one of the first people to come down with COVID-19 that March. Cordell Almond, 64, was living in the Seattle area, far from von Rosenberg.
Everything was locked down. She was in Texas working in her hospital, and he was in Washington being treated in his hospital.
Nurses became essential to providing her with information ― including those who were caring for her father and those who were working with her in Lakeway.
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“I was constantly trying to get ahold of doctors and nurses to let me know what was going on,” she said about her father’s condition. “I had to rely on frontline workers to give me all the updates they could. They did a wonderful job, but they had to take care of really sick patients in Seattle, and they couldn’t run out to the phone to answer questions.”
She thinks often of that nurse in Seattle who held the cellphone up to her father so she could say goodbye to him before he died on April 4, 2020. “I can’t imagine the stress level that had to be,” she said of the nurse.
Her own experience, she said, changed the way she now communicates with patients and their family members. She talked to her manager about creating a patient liaison for the COVID-19 units to keep families informed based on her own experience and the difficulty getting information.
COVID-19 had many downsides for the nursing profession: the stress of treating extremely sick people, the long hours and need to take on extra shifts to adequately staff COVID-19 units along with the rest of the hospital, and the exodus of fellow nurses who left the profession. But nurses like von Rosenberg also say COVID-19 bonded colleagues together.
“We became closer as a team,” she said.
Brenton Majors, the director of nursing at Baylor Scott & White’s Buda and Austin hospitals, witnessed the same things.
COVID-19, Majors said, “has been the extreme … nothing has really compared.”
“It really had us lean on each other as co-workers for emotional support,” he said. “We really banded together. We learned together. It made us a close-knit family, not only with nursing colleagues but across the hospital.”
Nurses started doing things for their colleagues, like one who decorated the unit for every holiday and celebrated every co-worker’s birthday.
“This nurse just kept us all grounded to celebrate life as we’re going through this thing,” Majors said.
COVID-19 elevated the role of nurses in the public eye but also within hospitals. It allowed nurses’ voices to be heard more and to be more involved in the collaboration and interaction within the hospital, Majors said.
Even with the current COVID surge, life in the hospitals is different, though not as stressful as other surges. People are starting to come back to the profession, including those nurses who left initially, Majors said, and hospitals have been able to hire recent nursing school graduates.
Even as things are getting closer to normal, “we see a lot of resiliency,” Majors says of the staff.
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