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'Challenging. Gut wrenching. Frustrating'

Health care workers describe life during COVID-19

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  • 14 min to read

For health care workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed daily life. 

Work requires extra precautions and more protective gear. Those working in the field call it challenging, saying it taxes physical and mental health. 

The Frederick News-Post spoke with health care workers at Frederick Health about treating people for COVID-19 and how the pandemic has changed work. 

Natalie O’Leary, intensive care unit nurse at Frederick Health Hospital

How did you first get into health care? What made you want a career in health care?

I knew I wanted to be a nurse since I was in high school. Nursing was a combination of my two favorite things, science and people, and I knew it was the career path for me.

What is your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part of my job is advocating for patients when they need someone the most and helping them overcome their health disparities. I love being able to impact patient's lives in multiple ways. I can be their teacher, support, coach and caregiver all in the same day- there is no greater feeling.

What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?

Working in healthcare during a pandemic is scary and sad. We're seeing very young patients fighting for their lives with unknown projected outcomes. However, I believe it has unified many departments of the hospital. We have implemented team nursing, which involves nurses and staff from various units coming together, using their individual skills and taking care of these patients as a team.

What is it like to treat COVID-19 patients? What concerns do you have, if any?

It's very different from what many of us are used to in terms of expectations of outcomes. Many of these patients need a long time to recover and they often get worse before they get better. It's uneasy but very rewarding when we do see patients progress and get better. The hardest part and major concern for me is their family not being able to be with them in the hospital during this time. It's always hard not being able to visit a loved one in the hospital, but during a time with such an uncertain illness, I can't imagine how difficult that must be for the patients and their families. We try to communicate with families in a variety of ways including frequent phone calls and video calls to aid in this visitation barrier.

While treating COVID-19 patients, are you going home to see your family? What precautions are you taking?

Although I am wearing proper PPE, I self-quarantine. I see my husband, but other than him, I won't expose myself to other family members. We go out for necessities, but we think of ourselves as exposed individuals due to the high amount of positive patients I care for on a weekly basis.

What do people need to know about COVID-19?

People need to know that this is real and it comes on quick. Some of these patients go from feeling alright to needing a ventilator within hours. Social distancing and practicing good hygiene cannot be emphasized enough!

What do you want people to know about being a health care professional during the pandemic?

I want people to know that being a health care professional during this time is different and more frightening than ever, but our level of compassion and desire to help these patients is just the same, if not more! They need thorough care and strong advocates to improve and we are ready and willing. I think I speak for many of my coworkers when I say that we are so appreciative and cannot thank the community of Frederick enough for the amount of love and support we have received over these last several weeks!


Quentin Campbell, physical therapist at Frederick Health Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab Aspen Ridge

How did you first get into health care? What made you want a career in health care?

I decided to go into health care when I finished my enlistment in the Army. I sustained a back injury during my last year of service and was given strengthening exercises and stretches to perform to help my injury. I found it fascinating that targeted exercises could help improve my symptoms. I wanted to be able to provide that same relief and care to individuals' lives working in the healthcare field.

What is your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part about being a physical therapist is being able to give patients relief from the pain they were experiencing, and the gratitude they express for the hard work and dedication our team has given them during their treatment process.

What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?

It can be stressful sometimes, but I know that I have a duty to my patients to be there for them and I have trust in my organization and the protections we have been given to help provide safety to myself and the members of the community that we serve.

What is it like to treat COVID-19 patients? What concerns do you have, if any?

Working in the outpatient setting I have not treated known COVID-19 patients at this time but knowing that there is community transmission of the virus we have to continually uphold the standards of care which we already had in place with appropriate cleaning of the clinic and hand hygiene. We have implemented screening and have been provided the appropriate personal protective equipment while continuing to treat our patients who are in essential need of care.

While treating COVID-19 patients, are you going home to see your family? What precautions are you taking?

I have a wife and two young daughters who I go home to every day. However, I have trust in the appropriate personal protective equipment we have been provided and continue to maintain the continued standard of hand hygiene which we were already performing before the pandemic. I have also started changing all my clothes when arriving home before greeting my family as and extra precaution.

What do people need to know about COVID-19?

I think it is important for people to continue to listen to the guidance given to them about social distancing. It is important to slow the spread of the virus so that the healthcare system does not become overwhelmed.

What do you want people to know about being a health care professional during the pandemic?

As a veteran who has answered the call to service before, I am proud to be an essential health care provider during this time because there are patients who still need our care.


Nikki Hayslett, physical therapist at Frederick Health Hospital

How did you first get into health care? What made you want a career in health care?

I always knew I was interested in health care. I had an older friend when I was in high school that was already in Physical Therapy school. She encouraged me to look into it. I then volunteered in a hospital rehab department for several months, and I was hooked.

What is your favorite part about your job?

When people are in a hospital for any reason these days, they must be pretty sick. They don’t want to be in the hospital. We get to be instrumental in getting patients back home to their families and back on their feet again.

What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?

I could probably list a million things. Overall, when this started it was a feeling of something bad is coming, it’s going to come fast and it could be really bad. Before the pandemic we always treated patients as individuals, but we also followed specific policies, procedures, protocols, guidelines and best practices. Now all of those things are changing on a daily basis, and we are adjusting what we do on a daily basis. This is something we have never seen before. Not all patients present the same, not all patients respond the same to treatments and interventions.

What is it like to treat COVID-19 patients? What concerns do you have, if any?

Initially, I had a lot of anxiety, not knowing what to expect. Many patients are very, very sick. When you require a ventilator for support with this disease, the odds appear to be really against you to be able to pull through, however, with that said we definitely have had patients that are able to come off the ventilator and have recovered. That is really a fabulous thing to get to witness and be part of.

We are the ones that get to start moving and walking these patients after sometimes being in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator for sometimes up to two weeks. They are profoundly weak. The last thing I want to do is push them too fast and cause them to have a setback. That’s where our experience in knowing the physiology and how to monitor the patient while moving can really make a difference for them.

I am also lucky in that I get to see the patients in the intensive care unit and then follow them when they get moved to the general medical floor until they are well enough to go home. On a personal level, I would love to be able to have an antibody test to see if I have already been exposed. That might alleviate some of my internal fears that I think about each day when I go into sometimes up to eight or nine different COVID-19 rooms a day.

While treating COVID-19 patients, are you going home to see your family? What precautions are you taking?

Yes. I completely change my clothes at work before I leave for the day. Then when I get home, I go straight to a long hot shower. My husband and two sons at home are considered essential workers as well. We do our best to wipe and clean surfaces often.

What do people need to know about COVID-19?

It’s real. If you think you are lonely and having trouble coping at home not going out, consider the patients in the hospital. All they see all day long are people wearing masks, goggles, face shields and gowns. They are scared and worried. They just want to see their families and go home. So many of them just want to talk to us, find out what’s going on outside. They are always so grateful and are telling us to stay safe.

What do you want people to know about being a health care professional during the pandemic?

We are here for our community to take care of you when you need us.


Cyndi Lawrence, speech language pathologist

How did you first get into health care? What made you want a career in health care?

I wanted a career in which I could help people.

What is your favorite part about your job?

It is hard to pick only one thing I like about my job! I love to see people improve and get better in some way. In the acute care setting, we don't always get to see that, though. That being said, it can still be rewarding to help someone during a difficult time in their life. I love that I am always learning in this environment. And I hate sitting still, so working in a place where I have to walk around all day is ideal.

What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?

Challenging. Gut wrenching. Frustrating. Just a few words that come to mind. This is a new situation for everyone. Our everyday routines have been upended, at home and work. As this situation continues to evolve, we must remain flexible and keep our own fears and emotions in check in order to do our jobs. For me, there is some sort of odd reassurance I get from working in the hospital, because I feel like seeing it helps to understand what is happening a little better. As a speech-language pathologist, I face new obstacles of how to communicate with people who cannot hear me through my mask and face shield. So much of what I do involves visual cues from my face and mouth, which are now hidden. Many patients are having a harder time getting through their hospital stay because they cannot have visitors. They are more anxious, confused and scared.

What is it like to treat COVID-19 patients? What concerns do you have, if any?

It is so many things. There is fear and uncertainty. Of course, we all worry about the patients. We worry about our own health. We worry about our families. It is difficult to see how sick it makes people. It is difficult to see how quickly it can take a life. On the other end of the spectrum, it has been fascinating and uplifting to see the success stories of people getting better and being able to discharge from the hospital. My concerns are many...How long will this last? Will there be long term effects on the people who have "recovered"? How long will it take the economy to recover? What kind of toll is this taking on people's mental health? On my mental and physical health?

While treating COVID-19 patients, are you going home to see your family? What precautions are you taking?

I am living at home with my family. I wash my hands and arms to the point of obsession. I have always left my hospital shoes at the hospital. Now, I change out of my scrubs before leaving work and get washed up again as soon as I get home. I am trying to continue to eat healthy and exercise regularly. I do a little yoga every morning to help set a good intention for the day, stretch my muscles and get ready for the day ahead.

What do people need to know about COVID-19?

It is very real. It has been difficult for us to all put our lives on hold and to adjust to being on lockdown or quarantine, but we must do what we can to help protect each other.

What do you want people to know about being a health care professional during the pandemic?

I would like to reassure the families and friends of people who are hospitalized that we are all trying to do our best to give all patients love, encouragement, and support. I am proud of the community that keeps the hospital up and running, from the front line doctors and nurses to all the support professionals behind the scenes.


Monica Laird, occupational therapist at Frederick Health Home Care

How did you first get into health care? What made you want a career in health care?

In high school I was an activities volunteer at a nursing home. It was there I decided that I wanted to work with the elderly. I know 'wanting to help people' sounds cliché, but being able to make a difference in someone else’s life is important.

What is your favorite part about your job?

The people, patients and staff, are the reason I keep at it despite all the craziness. Home Health is a bit more intimate than working in a clinic or hospital. You are in someone’s home, seeing how they actually live. I enjoy seeing the collections people have, the flowers and vegetables in their garden, their pets, their favorite recliner, all those things that make people who they are.

What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?

Nothing has changed and everything has changed. The crux of what I do and why I do it each day has not changed. I meet people where they are and provide what they need to live their best life possible. The HOW has definitely and continues to change, full PPE in a home, socially distant family that are not readily available for assistance, screening questions for patients and families all those things add another layer of consideration.

What is it like to treat COVID-19 patients? What concerns do you have, if any?

I have thought about the ramifications of treating positive patients and possibly infecting my family, if anyone says they haven’t they are crazy. I am concerned, but I choose not to dwell on those possibilities because I don’t want fear to consume me. Our COVID patients that have come home are very thankful for all the care they received from [Frederick Health Hospital]. Just today, my patient said that he is aware he 'got a second chance.' He showed off the poster that the staff made and signed for him and did recall hearing the Rocky theme as he left. He is very aware of the sacrifices the staff made to care for him. He was sad that he was unable to personally say goodbye and thank each of the hospital staff before he left.

While treating COVID-19 patients, are you going home to see your family? What precautions are you taking?

Of course wearing all the PPE, removing shoes right by the door. I always was a morning shower person but now as soon as I walk in the door I remove my scrubs and run to the shower. I have a husband and adult child at home, still living with them as I normally do.

What do people need to know about COVID-19?

There is still a lack of understanding regarding its transmission and how the use of hand hygiene, social distancing and masks impact that.

What do you want people to know about being a health care professional during the pandemic?

We do what we do, make the sacrifices and take the risks because we choose to. Never in my 30 years as an OT did I ever contemplate doing OT during a pandemic but it IS what I signed up for. Sometimes I feel like a hero, sometimes I think I am just doing my job. I am happy that I work with such an awesome team. I couldn’t do this without them. I hope that when I am old and long retired, I can recall with pride that I played my part well in the COVID fight.


Nicholas W. Biggs, adult respiratory care specialist at Frederick Health Hospital

How did you first get into health care? What made you want a career in health care?

I needed a change, I was the manager of a liquor store for 10 years and was ready for something more reliable and fulfilling. My mom and sister are both nurses, I shadowed with them and did not like the nursing aspect, so I shadowed with a RT and loved it. I liked being able to talk with patients, being able to float anywhere in the hospital and being able to really focus in on one specialty.

What is your favorite part about your job?

I think working in every different area of the hospital. Seeing patients when they first come in, to the worst they can become, then seeing them healed and going home. Also, being able to keep up the skills to work in all areas makes it interesting as well. All different areas require different levels of care as well as the thought process behind the care. Being the Adult Respiratory Care Specialist, I get to help with the education of others, our direct staff, and the others throughout the hospital.

What is it like working in health care during a pandemic?

It is great!! You see a lot of wonderful things. Team members working together, the community reaching out to help the hospital and healthcare team; everyone looking out for the safety of others, including staff and the community. It is also very rewarding being able to help those that we can, recover and get back home safely. Being able to work with a great team really makes this job great. From direct reporting staff, to management and upper management, the lines of communication are open and work very well. There really seems to be a family type atmosphere around the hospital. I really enjoy getting to know the staff on a whole new level, people are really becoming like family and reliant on others for moral and psychological help. No one knows how you are feeling except someone else going through the same thing. And it does not matter your role in this hospital or any other for that matter, we are all dealing with the same stress and unknown. Talking and discussions about it make everything seems easier, knowing you are not the only one feeling this way.

What is it like to treat COVID-19 patients? What concerns do you have, if any?

It’s hard, more precautions, more gear to wear and a disease we do not know a whole lot about. It's mentally and physically stressful. It’s hard knowing our patients are here with no visitors, only phone conversations, in a time of struggle and need. It's hard seeing a lot of the things we normally take for granted being things that are now off limits (visitors, shaking of hands, hugs, etc.) We have to work on showing our empathy and care in many other ways. I see nurses sitting and talking with the patients more, family members calling to check on the status of their loved one, and many other great things we are not used to doing because people could see us smile at them, they could have visitors, people could send flowers and gifts to the hospital. So many things have changed that have made us better providers and care givers. Everything is not always the best but we make the best of it.

While treating COVID-19 patients, are you going home to see your family? What precautions are you taking?

Yes, before all of this took place my wife and I discussed what we (I) were going to do to protect my family and myself. But my wife and child wanted me home! I have a special routine every day when I get home from work, to keep everything out of the house to the best of my ability. I disrobe on the back deck, put my clothes directly into the wash, go to the shower right inside the basement and clean myself! Now we had a snag in the middle of all this, my wife is pregnant and got put on modified bed rest so some things had to change a little but the process of me coming home and cleaning up stayed the same. We've had to rely on family to come in or go to, to help with our child and my wife. Or certain days I will shower here before leaving and going to pick them up. Things have made a turn for better, but still a long road ahead until 36 weeks, we are at 25 weeks now.

What do you want people to know about being a health care professional during the pandemic?

It is stressful, but it is rewarding! We are here to help, not to make things hard. We understand you are now coming into a place where everyone is gowned and masked up and that can make things a little scarier than before. But remember they are scary for us as well. Not only do we have to worry and take care of you, the patient, but we have loved ones we go home to every night to take care of as well.

Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio

Heather Mongilio is the health and Fort Detrick reporter for the Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at hmongilio@newspost.com.

(19) comments

schaeferhund

I'm grateful to all of our healthcare providers, especially those trying to manage the crisis in nursing homes. I just wish the likes of Delegate Dan Cox and Senator Michael Hough would read this. You wouldn't know there was a pandemic if you read their rants.

jth7100

livesforrunning, your comment is authoritatively stated and incorrect. Refer to the Maryland speadsheet and note that dental offices are categorized exactly the same as hospitals. Many think essential means 24/7. It's a common error. Dental offices were open for emergencies throughout the entire time period. My brother saw emergencies each week so far because their particular occupation was the only one that could deal with those issues. If a certain occupation could provide a unique service, they were categorized as essential. Actually it is interesting to see how many occupations are noted as essential. Perhaps you think I am trying to equate the two services which I am not.

lives4running

Like I said, emergencies. Refer yourself to the American Dental Association website. I’m not going to argue with someone who insults others; not worth the time.

threecents

Lives4[thumbup]

threecents

Of course they are heroes and literally saving our lives, but I was surprised to read in this account that at least in some cases, it appears they don't shower and change out of their scrubs at the hospital. Please correct me if I misinterpreted.

lives4running

If dentists were essential, they’d have remained opened. As such, they were closed except for dental emergencies per recommendation of the American Dental Association. Maybe YOUR dentist stayed open, but most did not. Hospitals and their employees have continued working. Period. Hospitals do not close.

jth7100

But you did help demonstrate Dunning-Kruger effect in action.

jth7100

https://www.aacounty.org/departments/sao/images-documents/MD-essential-business-list.pdf

If you can read, you'll see you're wrong as usual.

jth7100

https://www.aacounty.org/departments/sao/images-documents/MD-essential-business-list.pdf

Now, you've been told.

jth7100

Of course dentists are essential, check the list. If you had teeth you'd know better.

jth7100

Think of dentistry; put your face 12" from someone's oral cavity and then run the equipment that blows up an aerosol of all microorganisms into your own face. Then, do it for hours. Then see that is in the same category as fishing and hiking.

jayel86

Dentists aren't essential healthcare workers during a pandemic...sorry. Not to mention, every one knows its the hygienist that does all the work.

rbtdt5

Yeah, getting my teeth cleaned on Monday! I was happy to see he was opening up

threecents

Since there are subclinical spreaders, I would not endanger dental workers just for a routine cleaning.

jayel86

Takes a lot of courage to treat the sick during an illness with so many unanswered questions.

Jleftwich

Good perspective. Thank you all for your dedication.

Dwasserba

Wow. Humbling.

Piedmontgardener

Such good people!- And Heather, your reporting during this time has been top drawer work - you are a professional journalist, thank you so much for your work.

Nicki

Heroes! ❤

God bless each and every one.

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