Fearless Front-liners

MVHS nurses stand tall in face of COVID-19 epidemic

By Daniel Baldwin

Three registered nurses at Mohawk Valley Health System took time out of their busy schedules recently to discuss how their work and personal lives have changed since the outbreak of COVID-19. They also touch on what attracted them to the medical field and how they became who they are today.

Charbonneau
Charbonneau

Alexis Charbonneau
Boonville

Q.: Just how hectic has your work schedule been during the novel coronavirus outbreak?

A.: Fortunately, my schedule has not required me to work more days than normal. My shifts, however, are very hectic and exhausting.

Q,: What sort of help and assistance do you provide to patients infected with COVID-19?

A.: Each patient requires a different plan of care depending on why they are hospitalized. We as nurses must help individualize care, treat accordingly and work in collaboration with the providers.

Those infected with the virus are receiving individualized care just as those who are not infected with the virus are. This is a really tough time to be a nurse or provider as well as a patient, whether you are fighting COVID-19 or not.

Q.: What is the experience like working at the hospital during this outbreak? Is it nerve wracking or are you managing to remain calm?

A.: I have surprised myself in my ability to remain calm and focus of patient care during this time. We are so lucky to have a strong, dedicated, and brilliant group of hospitalists, intensivists, and pulmonologists that have been working so hard to treat these patients and get them home to their families.

Q.: How far are you willing to go to help the patient fight through the symptoms of the virus?

A.: I think that as a nurse I agreed to put myself second and the patient first the minute I received my degree. Time and time again, I have left work feeling as though I could not give an ounce more of my time, effort, and understanding to my job. It’s an exhausting feeling for sure.

But when a patient you’ve helped through a devastating cancer diagnosis, or open heart surgery, or even now through the coronavirus, thanks you for being there for them, it is undeniably worth the exhaustion.

Q.: What sort of challenges and tasks do you and your staff face while helping a coronavirus patient?

A.: It is very challenging to connect with our patients during this time. Walking into a patient room and having them only being able to see your eyes can warrant some nervousness. Prioritizing is something we are all getting better at.

Q.: What do you feel are the keys to being a nurse on a highly successful level?

A.: You must possess good listening skills to be a successful nurse. I have learned so much from listening to providers discuss patient care as well as asking questions in order to understand why we are treating a patient a certain way.

Listening to your patients is another very important skill to have as a nurse. Honing in on your assessment skills and anticipating course of care is another good way to become a successful nurse.

Communication is another very important key to being a great nurse and also a great coworker.

Q.: Is burnout a threat for nurses? If so, what types of remedies are available to address burnout?

A.: I think burnout is always a threat for nurses, especially on floors like mine. The wonderful thing about nursing is that there are so many opportunities to change your path and hopefully avoid burnout.

Q.: What kind of advice would you give a nursing student who is embarking on a career as a health care professional?

A.: I would say, even though currently these are trying times for health care workers, keep pursuing what you love and are passionate about. If you love helping people and are empathetic, this is where you are supposed to be.

Gomolka
Gomolka

Karina Gomolka
New Hartford

Q.: What is the situation at your hospital and work environment like right now? How has COVID-19 impacted your hospital? What’s it like for you?

A.: The situation is very stressful given the circumstances. The virus has caused all non-essential work to stop, but in terms of dealing with the virus, we are handling it well. The guidelines on how to provide adequate and correct care to patients constantly changes, which leaves me feeling unsure at times.

However, I have been trying to keep hopes high for coworkers and myself by doing little things each day such as bringing in chocolates, soaps, and pins.

Q.: How would you describe what you’ve been going through recently?

A.: At first when the virus came about, I was uneasy — just not knowing what was expected of me and my fellow health care workers. However, as we learned more about the virus and ways to combat it, I feel more confident. Overall it has not been easy, but we pull through and will continue to do so until the very end.

Q.: What is your specific job now, with this crisis? How has it changed because of the virus?

A.: I am a registered nurse and on the front lines delivering the best care possible to each of my patients. My work ethic has not changed — I provide the same care to my patients that I did before the virus outbreak, so nothing has changed there. However, since the outbreak, things have become more demanding.

Q.: How has it impacted your personal life?

A.: I have become more worried about bringing it home to my family or perhaps getting it myself, leaving me unable to do my job. I am not able to see my grandson really at all since the outbreak — just FaceTime.

I don’t go around my mother either, because she has a compromised immune system, but we chat daily on the phone.

Q.: At what point in your life did you decide on a career in the health care industry? What were your primary motivating factors and influences?

A.: When I turned 23, I decided I wanted to give back somehow to society. I felt like taking care of the sick was a good way to achieve that. It was easy to get into the nursing field, since my biggest influence was my mother who was also a very strong and devoted nurse.

Q.: What do you feel are the keys to being a nurse on a highly successful level?

A.: To be a successful nurse, you need to treat every patient as if he or she is part of your own family and treat them how you would like to be treated. You do this by talking to them, listening to them, and being an advocate for them on every level.

I believe being compassionate is key to being a nurse on a highly successful level.

Q.: What are the most gratifying or “feel good” aspects of being a nurse?

A.: The rewarding aspect of nursing is the gratitude from the patient knowing you made a difference in their life at their weakest moments. Just overall, it’s being a part of their healing process so they can return to their daily life.

Groom
Groom

Samantha Groom-Cardone
South Utica

Q.: Just how hectic has your work schedule been during the coronavirus outbreak?

A.: I wouldn’t say my work “schedule” itself has necessarily been hectic, but my assignments at work have been hectic. I think more than anything else, the stress of the known and unknown alike with the novel coronavirus outbreak make for a hectic environment.

Q.: What sort of help or assistance do you provide to patients infected with COVID-19?

A.: I think the main thing I try to help or assist those patients with besides physically caring for them is to provide them some bit of peace.

I think that it’s hard for these patients who are struggling to recover from this virus to be in a room alone without friends or family to comfort them or remind them that they are safe and cared about.

I try to spend even a minute or two extra talking with the patients that are in isolation for suspected or positive coronavirus. They know someone is there to listen to them and be concerned for their overall well-being.

Q.: What is the experience like working at the hospital during this outbreak? Is it nerve-wracking or do you remain calm?

A.: I think the overall atmosphere is uneasy due to policies changing rapidly and most of us feeling as if we’re just waiting for “the worst of it” to come. It’s frightening worrying about bringing the virus home to my family, but while at work, I generally stay pretty calm and keep a level head.

Q.: How far are you willing to go to help a patient fight through the symptoms of the virus?

A.: I would be willing to do anything I could within my scope of practice to assist my patients in fighting the virus and its symptoms. As nurses, that is what we chose to do when deciding our profession.

Q.: How do you and the rest of your staff prepare for scenarios like this?

A.: I can say the night shift on the special care unit at St. Elizabeth’s has a great group of nurses who really help each other out whenever needed. I think that we do well at being prepared because we’re always ready and willing to help each other when things get busy.

Q.: What sort of challenges and tasks do you and your staff face while helping a COVID-19 patient?

A.: I think one of the main challenges is suiting up in personal protective equipment, heading into the room, and realizing that you’ve forgotten something that you need. Due to the process of putting on and taking off your PPE, the time that it takes to do so, and the overall lack of PPE, no one wants to be going in and out of the patient’s room multiple times.

We’re trying to remember everything that we’ll need going in and without fail, will always forget something. So then you’re calling the desk or knocking on the window from the inside of the door and waiting for someone to bring you what you need. Another major challenge is how long it takes someone else to suit up to come into the room if you urgently need assistance from someone else. There is no such thing as “come right here” when it takes 2 to 3 minutes to put on your gown, gloves, masks, and face shield.

Q.: At what point in your life did you decide on a career in the health care industry? What were your primary motivating factors and influences?

A.: My primary influence in becoming a nurse was my grandfather, my papa. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when I was 20 years old and was given 9 to 12 months to live with chemotherapy treatments. I was his primary, and usually sole, caregiver throughout his nine-month battle and the more time we spent in hospitals, the more he would tell me that I was meant to be a nurse. It wasn’t until I met and started dating my wife two years later that she became my main motivating factor and convinced me to apply to complete my prerequisites for nursing school.

Being a nurse will always be one of my favorite things about myself, thanks to them.

Q.: Why did you choose your particular location to practice in? What are the benefits of your current environment both from a personal and professional standpoint?

A.: I applied to the special care unit before I graduated from St. Elizabeth College of Nursing, mostly because of my preceptor and experience on that unit during my final semester of school.

I wanted to acquire a position in nursing that would challenge me and allow me to learn and grow in. I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t days as a brand new nurse I didn’t question my decision and thought I had gotten in over my head.

Looking back, I’m appreciative of the tough assignments and long nights as it helped me to grow as a nurse and as a person. Personally, the benefits of my current environment are the nurses that I get to work with on nights and the teamwork that pulls us through the worst of shifts.

Q.: What do you feel are the keys to being a nurse on a highly successful level?

A.: I feel the keys to being a successful nurse are to always be willing to learn and to never lose sight of the importance of your patient care and bedside manner. I try to be conscious of the things that I have yet to learn and the things that I can improve upon as a nurse. At the same time, I try to never lose sight of the reason I became a nurse and that my patients are always the priority.

I think a successful nurse continues to seek educational opportunities throughout his or her career and holds on to the urge to always be better for yourself and for your patients.

Q.: What kind of advice would you give a nursing student who is embarking on a career as a health care professional?

A.: I think my main advice to a nursing student right now would be to stick it out. There will be days that you question your career choice, capabilities, skill level and mental sanity. Just remember, you wouldn’t have gotten through nursing school if you weren’t able to do it, so put your feet on the ground and push through. There will come a day when you’re on a shift and feel pride in how far you’ve come and all that you’ve made it through to become the nurse that you are. That makes it all worth it.

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