“Last April, I drove up to New Jersey with two of my colleagues to care for COVID-19 patients at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. When I arrived for the first day of work, I can tell you that there was no way to imagine how truly bad it was. People were dying in droves. Recovery rooms and ORs had been turned into ICUs. Anesthesia machines were being converted to ventilators. COVID-negative patients were afraid to come to the hospital for fear of catching the virus, and as a result many were dying at home when they could have received care that might have saved them.
“The tougher patients were sent to our facility—the ones who might not make it. I was rounding on 6-7 patients per room, doing everything—intensive care, trachs, inserting lines… It’s bred into us CRNAs not to give up, so if something we try doesn’t work, we change it. If that doesn’t work, we change it again. Our training keeps us going, but our commitment to our patients does, too. We care tremendously about our patients and providing them with the best possible care. My personal philosophy: Treat every patient like they are family.
“It was very humbling going to NJ. I’m only 36, but I always considered myself sort of an ‘old-school’ nurse. I went to NJ to work hard and help train the other nurses and providers how to take care of these incredibly sick patients. You can think you know a lot, and suddenly you feel like you don’t know anything. When I got back from NJ, I was changed. I’m not as high-strung as I once was. It has made me a better person—seeing what I saw. Six patients died on my first shift!
“I had one patient while I was there who crashed so many times I never thought he would make it. But I was there when they rode him out to rehab. He had a girlfriend who was pregnant and kept calling to check on him. We had to get him through this to see his baby!
“Whenever possible, I want to meet the patient and make that bond. The ultimate goal, of course, is a positive outcome.
“I cared for another COVID patient who was young, healthy, athletic. He told me he had no one, so I held his hand prior to intubating him to let him know I cared. I realized he might never make it without the breathing tube. He was still there when I left to return home on June 1. I often wonder what happened to him…
“One of my patients, Bill Squires, actually became like family to me. He was a fighter. I bear-hugged him to pick him up and carry him from the bed to a reclining chair because he had not been out of bed for 30 days. I cut his hair, shaved him, made him presentable for his family when he talked with them via Facetime. I used my own iPhone because the hospital’s iPad didn’t work. I would just leave my phone with him for an hour and go take care of my other patients.
“I had to put Bill on a ventilator for 25 days. He looked like he was coming around when we took him off the ventilator, but his fever spiked two days later, and I had to reintubate. After his second extubation, I could tell his body was exhausted from inactivity, so I became a makeshift physical therapist and performed active steps to break down the mucus in his lungs.
“When Bill finally left the hospital, I was in tears. Some of his family tracked me down to say ‘thank you,’ and Bill himself called on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Read more about Isaiah and Bill.)
“It’s patients like Bill who keep me going. Nurse anesthesia isn’t a clock-in, clock-out job. However long it takes and whatever it takes to get the job done, you need to be willing to do it. I stay with my patients the whole case and am the one who takes them to recovery. I don’t want to feel like I’ve broken my promise to my patient that I’ll be with them from the start of their procedure to the time they go to recovery.
“If I were asked to go back to another COVID hotspot, I would do it again and not think twice about it.”