Sneak a peek behind the scenes of
Southeast Georgia Health System’s 5 St. Simons Tower and you will see caring team members hustling to take care of sick patients.
Each day they show up ready to help make a difference in the lives of
many, despite the unknown. Although it is officially designated for stroke
care, 5 St. Simons added
COVID-19 patients as the case numbers grew. “We wish we could open the doors
to our hallways to let the public see inside,” says Stephanie Womack,
LPN. “The tears and the fear was shared throughout all of us, but
there was no doubt we all had compassion for our patients and for each
other. For the patients who lost their battle to COVID, we want their
families to know they were not alone. We held their hands, we wiped their
tears as we wiped our own, and we prayed for them as well as for you.”
As the pandemic stretches into its third year, Womack and her co-workers
are united together. When not caring for patients hospitalized with coronavirus,
they care for patients who may have suffered a stroke or another diagnosis.
In the case of stroke patients, the nurses collaborate with neurologists,
radiologists, cardiologists and lab technicians to make a diagnosis. If
a stroke has occurred, they partner with physical and occupational rehabilitation
professionals, dietitians and other health professionals to help the patient
recover. “We are all interdependent, and we all affect patient care,”
says Assistant Nurse Manager Catherine Shumans, R.N.
The Price of Caring
Nursing a stroke victim back to health is challenging. Adding coronavirus
patients to your workload demands an extra level of dedication. “Nursing
requires a lot of flexibility, but the pandemic showed us a whole new
meaning to the word ‘flexible’,” says Nurse Manager
Kerri Philipbar, MSN, R.N. COVID-19 care requires meticulous safety precautions
and near-constant bedside interaction. Then there’s the emotional burden.
“These patients are isolated; our team is the only physical contact
they have. The team has worked so hard to be everything patients need.
They are invested physically and emotionally in these patients. They laugh
and cry with them and do everything they can to support them. It has been
a humbling experience,” Philipbar says.
Loving and caring for your fellow human beings brings rewards and risks.
“The hardest aspect was seeing so many deaths because we grew so
close to so many patients. It really took an emotional toll,” Shumans
says. When a patient recovered and went home, the nurses celebrated. “Seeing
some people get better pushes us to keep moving forward,” adds Womack.
Despite taking precautions, having a highly contagious virus saturating
communities unfortunately means some nurses will also get sick. Womack
was among them. “My husband and I were on the fence about the vaccine
for a long time. Then I got very sick myself, along with my husband. And
I saw with my own eyes that the majority of people being hospitalized
for COVID were unvaccinated. It was a learning experience. The public
gets told so many different things and there is so much misinformation.
I urge my family members, ‘If you trust me, please get vaccinated.’”
Despite the strain, nurses and hospital staff soldier on. How do they
keep going during the current state of pandemic limbo?
For Shumans, the answer is simple. “Knowing we had each other got
us through. Our team is like a family. We do everything families do together
– work, eat, pray, laugh, cry and love. Our togetherness gets us
through it all.”
The bravery and fortitude of nurses fighting to protect our community is
a lesson we can all learn from.
Southeast Georgia Health System offers COVID-19 vaccines for all individuals
age 12 and older. To learn more or to make an appointment, visit