Some people might say that nurses like Christy Owens, R.N. and Blake Wright,
BSN, R.N., along with all of their co-workers, go where angels fear to
tread. Then again, most people do not see COVID-19 up close and personal,
day in and day out. As nurses working with critically ill patients in
the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) of the Southeast Georgia Health System Brunswick
Campus, they care for people at their most vulnerable.
“CCU patients are extremely scared. My goals are to treat them with
kindness and respect, to listen to them and to make them feel safe,”
Unlike Any Other Profession
Though many people might not choose to work in a hospital during a pandemic,
the CCU staff is in their element. Like others who enter this profession,
Owens and Wright found their calling early in life. Owens always wanted
to be a nurse and though it took several years before she was able to
attend nursing school, once she did, “I dove right in and never
looked back.” Wright was inspired by the nurses who cared for his
grandfather as he battled cancer. “I visited him in the hospital
and found the role of the nurse to be really special,” he says.
Even as the nurses acknowledge the job’s mental and physical challenges,
they find it rewarding. “The satisfaction and pride you feel helping
those in need is unlike any other profession,” Owens says. Making
a difference in the lives of others keeps Wright coming back every day.
“Helping patients work through tough times is so rewarding. I also
love when patients return to visit the unit and thank us with a huge smile!”
A Bedside Vigil
The CCU team is often at the bedside during a patient’s final hours.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, a nurse may be the last person the
patient sees before they pass. In those moments, Owens treats patients
the way she would want her family or friends treated. Wright describes
that the bond between the nurse, patient and family is never stronger
than during a bedside vigil. “Patients’ families often say
they feel as though I am part of their family because of the constant
communication I have with them as their loved one battles a serious illness.”
He says this is especially true when a patient makes a turnaround after
escaping death. “The families share how thankful they are for what
we have done and how my co-workers and I have been at the bedside.”
Owens is similarly touched by the gratitude families express, even in difficult
times. She recalls a particularly poignant encounter. “This family’s
loved one was dying and all they could do was thank me. I didn’t
understand why they thanked me. Their son, father, husband, was not coming
home. Through experience, I realized that nursing isn’t all about
healing. Showing compassion and ensuring comfort and ease through the
dying process is just as important.”
Fighting COVID as a Family
Like other frontline heroes, the CCU team says that 2020 was the hardest
year of their career. The support of their co-workers made all the difference.
“I love everyone I work with. Every single one of us will jump in
at any given time to help one another,” Owens says. Wright echoes
the feelings of other Health System employees when he says, “My
work family is special. We are a unit, team and family, all with the common
goal of providing the best possible care. The nursing staff and physicians,
along with our non-clinical departments make this Health System a great
place to work because they are all outstanding co-workers.”
Their supervisor agrees, while expressing special appreciation for her
nurses. “The entire CCU team has worked above and beyond the call
of duty during this time,” says Jan Jones, R.N., BSN, director of
Patient Care Services.
Caring for critically ill patients during a pandemic requires extraordinary
effort. “Our unit transformed into the COVID-19 intensive care unit.
Workdays have been a lot more taxing on the body and mind, as many people
fall extremely ill from the virus and fight for their life,” Wright
says. Each nurse wears Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) throughout
their 12-hour shift. To minimize exposure, the team tries to get as much
done as possible while inside the rooms designated for patients with COVID-19.
“I make a list of supplies and medications I may need and take everything
into the room at one time,” Owens says.
When the Health System suspended visitation to protect families from the
highly contagious virus, the nurses found a workaround. They make FaceTime
calls between patients and families to comfort them.
Seeing the Good
Being in direct contact with COVID patients, the CCU nurses take extra
precautions to keep their families safe. “I have not had the chance
to see a lot of my family because I don’t want to place them at
risk. We wear a bunch of PPE, but it is still a risk I don’t want
to take,” Wright says. Owens found a silver lining in the midst
of the pandemic. “It forced me to slow down. My kids and I do lots
of bike rides, walks, board games and just talking. Every day, I try to
see the good in this world.”
Despite facing the 21st century’s biggest test to date, the CCU team knows they are helping
America move through a historical crisis. From their vantage point on
the frontlines of coronavirus care, they urge the public to take the virus
seriously. Despite our fatigue, Wright says we must continue to follow
the CDC guidelines, “Or this virus will devastate communities.”
We are all weary of masks, handwashing, social distancing, shutdowns and
quarantines, but as Owens says, “We don’t like it either,
but it’s a matter of life or death. Just do the right thing. We
love and care about every one of you!”
To support your community hospital during this time, call Southeast Georgia
Health System Foundation at 912-466-3360.