Fisher Nurses Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic
In this unprecedented time, we want to highlight the critical work the Wegmans School of Nursing graduates, faculty, and current students are doing on the front lines of this pandemic. Wegmans School of Nursing nurses make a difference every day.
Our Nurses Making a Difference
Caleb Branch ’16, RN, BSN
I currently work at Highland Hospital on West 6, med-surg. I’ve volunteered to be a member of Highland Hospital’s COVID-19 Task Force and have spent multiple shifts in the Observation Unit, OU, working with these patients.
When I’m not working with the COVID-19 patients I work on West 6 and serve as a resource to my peers on matters related to provision of care for COVID-19 patients. I demonstrate proper donning and doffing of PPE and deep nasopharyngeal swabbing to my peers through the education and experience I have obtained working with these patients.
Caleb Branch is president of Fisher's Student Nurses Association and is currently pursuing a master's degree in the adult/gerontology primary care nurse practitioner program.
Anna Solomonik ’20 RN, BSN, PC-FNP
I work in primary care.
For us, there is no Hazmat suit. Just a face mask and a telephone.
We triage, we coordinate, we are now Zoom experts!
The rule book is gone. We flow with the changes.
We try to quell people's anxiety, we often fail. I think this is the hardest part of the job right now.
Margaret (Maggie) Rustowicz ’19, RN, BSN
I work on a medicine floor at Children’s. After a tough respiratory season with baffling amounts of RSV and Flu, COVID-19 hit us like another bad respiratory season in just a few weeks. As a new nurse, this first year is nothing I could have seen coming. I just want the seniors entering the workforce, and my fellow classmates to know; you’re not alone. We are all feeling this sadness, stress and anxiety during these tough times and we will be okay! No one could have seen this coming less than a year into our career. However, Fisher prepared us best. Good luck to all of you!
Maggie Rustowicz is a pediatric nurse at John R. Oishei Children's Hospital in Buffalo, New York.
Lyndsie Harper ’12, RN, BSN
Please take a moment to read this journal entry. It is honest. It is raw. But this is the reality of what it is like to be a health care professional during this historic time. I urge newly graduated nurses to find courage and strength while entering this field. To all the other health care professionals: this is an uncertain time, but together we can make an everlasting difference.
The Reality of Being a COVID-19 Nurse
The Reality of Being a COVID-19 Nurse
My name is Lyndsie and I am a proud nurse. I earned my degrees from St. John Fisher College: Wegmans School of Nursing and the School of Business. After graduation, I went directly into a specialty – the Intensive Care Unit. Working with ventilators, high risk medications, and death are part of my daily routine. I know the career I picked would be difficult at times, but I never imagined what it would be like to be a nurse on the front lines of something like COVID-19. These last several weeks have been heart-wrenching. Yes, the nature of our work is challenging, but being outside of work has become just as difficult for many nurses. Some nurses have been judged, spat on, and attacked in public. Nurses are often the ones that provide education, compassion and support for their patients. We are the ones doing the screenings, taking care of the critically ill, and attending to the dying. We watch healthy individuals become so sick that only machines keep them alive. We tell families they cannot visit with their loved ones. We watch people visit through a pane of glass, taping signs and cards to the window from outside. I cannot imagine what that feels like. I feel shame and sadness that I cannot do more for my patients. It is exhausting, and by no means does it feel heroic.
As healthcare professionals, we try to leave work at work, but it is harder now. We harden ourselves a little bit. We laugh when others would cry. Like many nurses, I am feeling fatigued and anxious. My alarm clock goes off and I get ready for work. Uncertainty rushes over me. My body is still sore from the last few shifts. But I also feel grateful to be able to help someone today. I drive to work and receive my assignment. I am told that I will be on the COVID wing today. I start to feel nervous. I listen to report - the patient’s call bell goes off. It is only 0720, but my patient needs help. I collect all the supplies I might need. I walk towards the COVID room. Before entering the anteroom, I tightly twist my hair into a bun for fear of it coming down and getting contaminated. I don my PPE in the proper order. I carefully place the straps of the N95 mask for fear of it snapping and welting my face. Once I am in the patient room, I analyze the situation. I begin talking to my scared patient. I have to yell over the noise of the equipment, yet my voice is still muffled from the N95 mask. My face shield begins to fog up, and tiny beads of sweat start running down my face and shield. I try to gently shake my head and blink my eyes to clear them off. I am very careful moving. I worry that the straps of my mask will start to slide down from the top of my head to my ears, eventually causing a blister from the tension.
While I am in the room, I have many tasks. To decrease exposure, I am the RN, CNA, IV team, environmental services, and dietary staff. I continue to work in the room. By this point, I have been in the room for almost 2 hours. I finish my tasks and make sure the patient is settled, before I leave. I exit the room and meticulously doff my PPE per protocol. I exit the anteroom, hunch over, and brace my hands on my knees. I am fatigued, thirsty, saddened, and dizzy. I have a headache from talking loudly. My face is burning, red, and indented from the tight mask. My forehead is starting to get a rash from the foam on my face shield. My scrubs are damp from sweat. My hands are scabbed and painful from all the hand washing; it looks like someone took sandpaper to my skin. I am lightheaded from breathing through my mask. I check my oxygen saturation – it is only 88%. Now imagine what patients in respiratory distress feel like. I head to the bathroom to take a minute to regroup. I think to myself, I still have ten more hours of this. But I quickly start to think of the positives and how grateful I am to have provided company to that isolated patient. I leave the bathroom and head to the nurse’s station. I have a smile on my face but anxiety and exhaustion are flooding my eyes. Hours have passed; it is 1500, and I have not had a chance to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom again.
It is now the end of my shift. I finish my tasks, give report, and clock out. I change out of my clothes and shoes at work, sanitize all my belongings, and drive home. On the drive, I collect my thoughts. I get home, leave my belongings outside, isolate my clothing, go straight to the shower, and then start the laundry. I do not touch anything else until this is done. Then, I sanitize all my belongings again, turn on my diffusers, eat dinner, and get ready for the next shift. I lather myself with calming YL Essential Oils and inhale. I try to fall asleep but wake up in a panic. Will it be my turn to float to the COVID floor tomorrow? Was my mask secure enough or did I accidently touch it with dirty gloves? Everything is constantly changing, what new policies will be in place tomorrow? Will there still be proper PPE?
People often ask me, “Should I really be worried?” The answer is yes. I am scared for my patients. I am scared for my colleagues. I am scared for my friends and family. And as much as I do not like to admit it, I am scared for myself. But this will not prevent me from doing my job. I will keep educating and caring for my patients and loved ones. I call my parents almost every day. I try to smile and make jokes, but I hear the fear in their voices. My message to you is this: COVID-19 is a dramatic reminder that we humans are both so fragile and so resilient. Be kind to one another. Wash your hands often. Change your clothes. Love your family and friends hard. I cannot control much, but I can control how I treat my patients. I can also control the support I give to other nurses. Please, show support to healthcare professionals. We do not have the luxury of working from home. I am deeply grateful for all my fellow colleagues feeling overworked, understaffed, and possibly heartbroken and anxious. Always remain courageous. Be proud to be a nurse, whether you are a new grad or a seasoned professional.
Kathleen Ennis ’19, RN, BSN
After seven months of Level IV NICU experience in Syracuse, New York, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. At the beginning of March, I started my new career at the Level IV NICU in Levine Children’s Hospital.
At this point, COVID was just on the rise. I moved to a new city and started a new job right in the midst of all of this. I am so thankful for my Fisher education and experience to help me adjust during this difficult time.
Shane Gurnee ’12, RN, BSN
Shane Gurnee is the nurse coordinator at the MCPHD. As the isolation team leader, he is in charge of the County's response to COVID 19 community transmission, isolation, and quarantine. He is pictured with Wegmans School of Nursing faculty members, Dr. Sara Miner (left) and Dr. Yvette Conyers (right).
Denis Nguyen ’15, RN, BSN
Denis Nguyen began working with the MCPHD just three months ago! Normally, she work as a nurse on the immunization team, but currently is also working on the isolation team with Shane Gurnee. She is pictured with Wegmans School of Nursing faculty members, Dr. Sara Miner (left) and Dr. Yvette Conyers (right).
Kelsey Holley ’20, RN, BSN (Dec. 2020)
There is no better place I’d rather be then helping the community in the hospital at its lowest points; keeping positive perspective and focus on the joy of little things. I work at Unity Hospital.
Kate Jarvis ’17, RN, BSN
After graduating in December 2017, I started my career in critical care. I’m currently a Level 3 RN in the MICU at URMC. Due to Covid-19 our unit is now exclusively a Highly Infectious Disease Unit for the critically ill. I can’t say that I have always handled the pandemic stress with grace or responded the way I would normally to my friends and mentors, who I hope understand. However, I believe relying on skills from Fisher has carried me through adapting to the evolving change and increased ICU patient to nurse ratio.
My education from Fisher has frequently served me well but especially now when leadership and communication skills are essential. I utilize TeamStepps more than ever to advocate for my patients. Therapeutic communication with families has taken on a new dynamic now that they’re unable to visit and phone calls are often started with anxiety/anger driven questions. I’m able to hear families’ concerns and address their fears while giving truthful status updates.
In this time of unprecedented change in ICU nursing, I find myself frequently remembering foundational lessons taught by Dr. Smith, Dr. Kiss, and Dr. Sacco (I’m sure all of the nursing professors for that matter) to analyze my response, appropriate practice changes, and what my scope is in regards to new policies and patient care recommendations during a pandemic related crisis.
The School of Nursing program and faculty were such a huge part in developing who I am that I hope to always make Fisher proud. More so, I hope to always remain true to the Nightingale Pledge. No matter what happens in the face of a pandemic, or how difficult my job becomes, that, “I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession.”
Lindy Zulick ’13, ’20 (FNP), RN, BSN, FNP (Aug. 2020)
Since I graduated in 2013, I have worked at UR Medicine on unit 71200 with an amazing group of nurses and providers where teamwork literally makes the dream work. Working during this pandemic is scary and anxiety provoking, but with this team, it is all manageable and I know we will get through this together.
Alyssa Piparo ’17, RN, BSN
I graduated from Fisher's nursing program in December 2017. I am on a COVID unit in Long Island at Stony Brook University. On most days it feels like we are fighting a losing battle, but my Fisher education is keeping me grounded and I keep reminding myself, “This too shall pass!”