COLORADO SPRINGS — These are challenging times for healthcare workers across the globe. Workers are managing precious supplies of PPE for their own safety while having to watch patients lose their battle with COVID-19. But they’re also reveling in the miraculous moments with the patients who are recovering.
Jessica Yoo is a registered nurse and a house nursing supervisor at UCHealth Memorial Hospital who is on the front lines of this pandemic here in southern Colorado.
Jessica says, “Personally, I can honestly tell you it brings up mixed emotions. I knew when I signed up for nursing that something like this is possible, but it definitely brings on anxiety and fear. You're scared that you potentially have the liability of bringing this home to your family and that is very scary and very real.”
Dealing with this global pandemic brings all of a medical professional's skills to bear - skills that are always needed, but not always in such concentrated amounts. Jessica says the focus she sees in her co-workers is inspiring.
“The simple fact that everyone walks through the door knowing that the day could bring sorrow, or it could bring the joy of patients going home. It could be the worst day that they're about to experience in their life and career, and they still walk through the door.”
As Colorado is still preparing for a surge of patients, there are concerns nationwide about the ability to keep medical workers safe. Jessica explains that at Memorial, “PPE (personal protective equipment) is a really hot topic right now. I can tell you that I feel very fortunate to work under leadership that understands that we need PPE and they have been huge on maintaining adequate amounts of PPE here. While we are absolutely conserving what we have, we do have enough for what we need right now. I know that they are preparing for the surge and they are trying their hardest to get us what we need.”
While there has been no reported shortage of ventilators in southern Colorado, Jessica says the fact that they are needed at all speaks to the severity of COVID-19 for some patients.
“Ventilators are important because they are our last-ditch effort to maintain someone's breathing. Ventilators are utilized when a patient can no longer efficiently breathe for themselves. When we take over breathing for someone, that decision isn't made lightly. We are seeing patients that typically would be on a vent for 3 or 4 days are now on for 7 days, 10 days, and up to two weeks. That brings a whole host of other potential problems. The goal of a ventilator is ultimately to take over breathing for a patient in hopes that their lungs have the time to heal so that they can then have that [breathing] tube removed.”
Jessica says it’s those moments of patients recovering and reconnecting with loved ones where the rewards of healthcare providers are realized.
“Sometimes as we start to get close to removing the tube we decrease the amount of sedation and medication. As we slowly decrease [the medication] they are a little more easily aroused and can follow commands. Sometimes we have been able to connect family members to those patients, and we have seen amazing responses. Patients who are vented can still respond and follow commands and I get teary-eyed (seeing their reactions) when they hear their family. It's pretty amazing.”
It's those types of moments that make the risks worth it for Jessica and other healthcare workers.
Jessica explains, “I have small children at home and my parents are in their seventies and live fairly close to us. I have a very specific area in the garage where I leave my shoes and I strip down in the garage and my clothes go straight into the washing machine. My kids and husband know not to say hi for fear that my little ones would run up and give me a hug. I go straight to the shower and then I meet up with them after that.”
Jessica says time with her family and the moments she shares with her fellow nurses at Memorial keep her going.
“The thing about nurses in general, is that many times we find humor is our best medicine. There is still a lot of laughter on the units, because we try to keep each other's spirits up while we're dealing with things that we've never dealt with before. We are still each other’s support system at work. It's amazing to me to see them go into a COVID-positive room and the entire staff is ready and willing to answer that call light so that they can bring whatever is needed so others are not coming in and out of the room. The staff is really supporting each other.”
That support is something Jessica makes sure to pass down to the nurses in the hospital she is responsible for, just as it is passed down to her.
“So many of us miss that personal connection with our patients. The ability not only to hug our patients, or be present with them holding their hands, but also with staff and each other. Air hugs can only go so far. I can tell you last week, I kind of had a mental breakdown for about a half-hour and I appreciated so much our leadership, because she pulled me aside and she gave me a hug - and that means a lot.”
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