The American Nurses Association and the World Health Organization have extended the International Year of the Nurse into 2021 because of the pandemic and the increased visibility of nurses’ contributions.
The following observations from three graduates of the FHU nursing program are being shared to honor all nurses, especially those in the FHU Family.
Class of 2018
I started travel nursing during COVID initially because my hospital in Tennessee was not in need of nurses the way the hospitals in New York and New Jersey were. I went to New Jersey to help out. The patients were lonely, and many seemed to lack hope due to not having visitors and the endless bad news on television. They were scared and alone, and we couldn’t comfort them because of the number of sick patients we had on the units.
Policies and treatment plans changed weekly, sometimes daily. Without the proper amounts of PPE, nurses were afraid of getting sick. It felt like nurses were expendable, as other departments were told not to go in the rooms and we were expected to take on the roles of other disciplines in order to conserve PPE and limit exposure. It didn’t limit OUR exposure, though. It was demoralizing to say the least.
We had heavier patient loads than ever before and less help. The public needs to know about safe patient ratios and demand that those be honored. I leaned on my boyfriend, who is also a nurse, for support, as well as our families and coworkers. Being a travel nurse is hard because we don’t have the strong support systems of local churches, our family or coworkers that we know well.
To all future nurses, I would say go to therapy when you need it, and don’t feel bad for taking time for yourself. Avoid overworking, and don’t let the hospital make you feel like you have to come in extra all the time. You need time to recover.
BSN, MMHC, RN
Class of 2009
Manager, MICU 8CCT / 8E (COVID) ICU Area
Vanderbilt Medical Center
I had 12 years experience in nursing and 11 years in medical ICU when COVID hit. As manager of an ICU unit that became a COVID unit, I had to plan for rapid expansion. I went from busy to extremely busy. Before the virus, we had 25 beds; when COVID hit, we nearly tripled that with 72 beds. Essentially, I was managing two units instead of one. We hired an additional 60 full-time nurses and brought in 80 travel nurses to meet the need. I was recruiting day and night. Our unit had a wonderful culture in place, and I wanted to keep it that way but it was so exhausting.
What made it so difficult was the amount of death and dying. As nurses, we are used to that, but there was just so much of it. At one point, we had a husband and wife who died within an hour of each other, but we were able to get them in a room together before that happened. Although we had emotional assistance programs and pastoral check-ins to help nurses decompress, this was a totally different degree of burnout. My focus was on keeping patients safe and the staff mentally healthy.
Our success was the strength of the team I inherited.
My wife Jessica, who is a surgical nurse, kept our family together. Surgeries stopped, so she was at home full-time with our daughter Olivia, then 2½. I couldn’t step away from my job to help at home, but she managed so well.
Things still have not returned to normal; it remains a very challenging environment. We continue to see people come in not vaccinated and dying. We have had people as young as 19 and as old as 101 in the ICU with different outcomes. Politics and the constant barrage of COVID coverage in the media has made a hard situation even more difficult.
Before college, attending FHU was not on my radar. Then I met Dr. Bob Smith, a member of the FHU Board of Trustees, who was rehabbing after a car accident. He told me about FHU starting a nursing program and how I needed to go there. He believed God had brought me into his life for a reason. Dr. Bob became a father figure to me, and we were close until his death, so much so that I was listed as a son in his obituary.
FHU’s nursing faculty strengthened us as nurses and prepared us for the world. FHU was what I needed. I have no regrets.
Class of 2018
I was working in the Neurosurgical ICU when the pandemic hit in March. Early on, Louisiana had the highest infection rate per capita in the world, and we felt it. The New Orleans area was hit about the same time as New York, and with my hospital being so close to New Orleans, we dealt with a lot. We became the designated COVID hospital for Baton Rouge. At the height in April 2020, we had 15 COVID units and were caring for 320 possible COVID patients.
When we got our first COVID patient at the hospital, everyone went into crisis mode with the CEO and administrators staying at the hospital all night and having meetings with various government officials. They asked for a few volunteers from every intensive care unit to staff the first COVID unit, and I volunteered. I am currently employed as a COVID ICU nurse, so I haven’t stopped taking care of COVID patients since March 2020.
I have seen God more in the last year than ever before in my life. I’ve seen hundreds of people die, but I’ve also seen hundreds more live. There were times when it was extremely hard to even want to continue working, but I always viewed my patients not only as people but as souls. That’s a direct result of the legacy of Freed-Hardeman’s nursing department. My instructors always encouraged us to treat patients holistically, helping to heal their emotional, physical and spiritual states. We might be nurses, but we are also Christians, and I learned from my professors how to integrate the two.
I’ve had patients who were members of the church of Christ. When I lost one of them last year, it was an emotional yet comforting moment to talk to the family and have that shared private joy with them that the patient was safely at home in heaven and wasn’t hurting any more.
If you’re a new nurse, just don’t give up. Things are hard right now, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but keep studying, keep going to work, keep getting out of bed. We will all get through this together.