Very few people want to be anywhere near coronavirus, but for a handful of Anne Arundel County student-athletes heading off to college to study nursing — and those already entering the field — they’d rather take the pandemic-causing virus head on.
When Old Mill senior Stella Cote tells people what she’ll be studying at Anne Arundel Community College, they’re bewildered. They ask her if she’s honestly ready to join the nursing world during a pandemic.
The three-sport athlete always gives the same answer. Whenever Cote played “nurse” with her sister as a kid, she always took the lead role. That lure stuck with her through high school, where she played field hockey, lacrosse and unified bowling.
“I just think this whole thing has really opened my eyes on it," Cote said. "I think it’s more of a calling, an opening to say wow, you are needed in this world. We need more people genuinely wanting to improve people’s lives, to be a change in the world.”
Broadneck swimmer Nate Howard got the itch while looking through his mother’s medical books as a 10-year-old. Nothing he’s seen from the pandemic has scared him off of his path.
Howard, who will pursue anesthesiology at Pitt this fall and participate in the school’s ROTC program, said he takes an oath of protection when he enters the medical field. It doesn’t matter what he’s protecting people from.
“I know going to the Army, I could be in danger. I could face war,” Howard said. “But it’s part of the job. I think it’s worth it.”
Cote, who will study pediatric nursing at AACC before transferring to Jacksonville University, worries about kids through pandemic, but it’s not necessarily because the virus’ harm.
“I’m more worried about the fact that they won’t ever have a normal childhood," Cote said. "They will be so affected by the virus, and they won’t be able to go to school, go to the parks. They won’t be able to have those great memories as a child.”
Former cheerleader Bre Moore intended to become a pediatric nurse when she graduated from Chesapeake High in 2014 and headed off to AACC. But that quickly changed.
Her sister, a trauma nurse, told Moore, “You’ll love emergency care.”
Just a few months post-graduation into her first job as a registered nurse at Anne Arundel Medical Center, Moore still loves it.
“It’s definitely the field to be in. With all this COVID stuff, it’s definitely more learning," Moore said. "The doctors, they barely know what’s going on, too. It’s so new that no one knows how to treat it.”
Chesapeake cheerleading junior varsity coach Arynn Young has worked in the intensive care unit at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center since 2017 and has never known a world like this. More than half of her over 30 beds she oversees are positive for COVID-19, the disease caused from coronavirus. It’s less than before.
She works the night shift, clad in an N95 mask, a face-shield, a gown, two pairs of gloves and shoe covers. She administers 10 to 15 medications to each patient and checks vitals every hour. The perseverance that keeps her going at work is similar to that which she applies to her athletic side of life
“I learned even from cheering that you have to push through the hard times and it’s not always easy. You have to learn from every opportunity, win or lose,” Young said.
“I think it’s the teamwork aspect that you’re drilled about in cheerleading. That’s also in nursing. You have to be a team and help each other, or you won’t survive. You wouldn’t be able to get through it.”
Most of these past few months have blurred in Moore’s memory, but one April Saturday stands out.
Normally these days, when she and her coworkers clock in, there are maybe 10 patients. By noon, 60. But on this Saturday, ambulance sirens rang, one after another after another. Every patient rushed in was what the staff call “priority one," receiving CPR, under heavy oxygen flow. All coding, or needing immediate resuscitative care.
More days stand out in Young’s mind, the good, and the bad.
One of her patients stayed on the ventilator for a long time before her health took an irreparable decline. As Young took the patient’s breathing tube out, the patient could speak again.
“I was in there pulling the tube out and I was holding her hand and she just kept saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ and couldn’t stop crying. It’s making me want to cry just thinking about it," Young said. "They’re alone. We’re all that they have.”
The good moments at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center come over the loudspeaker. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” is played every time a COVID-19 patient is moved from the ICU or discharged completely. Young hears it more and more these days.
Moore thinks she could have had coronavirus in February. No one provided staff with proper protective equipment then. They wore flimsy surgical masks while working with coronavirus patients.
The thought that the virus has wormed its way within her haunts Moore as she drives home each day. She strips her scrubs off the minute she opens the door, showering then and before she ever goes outside again. She doesn’t touch any member of her family until she feels she’s safe. She’s always masked the minute she leaves the house, washing her hands, keeping a constant eye on herself and any arising symptoms.
“I guess you can say I’m overprotective,” Moore said.
The pandemic has placed Moore’s career in a kind of arrested development. As a new graduate, she should be learning on-site skills handling cardiac arrest, strokes — all the things she’d prepared for in school.
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But she’s found, as healthcare professionals across the nation have, that people are staying away from the emergency room out of fear of contracting the virus. By the time patients do come in, Moore said, they’re almost dead.
“It’s been crazy. It’s been one — ” Moore said, and trailed off. “I don’t have words for it. Crazy ride? I never thought my journey as a nurse would start like this.”
As chaotic as Moore’s life has become, she, too, can credit her time cheerleading for Chesapeake with providing her the fortitude to press on. There is no program as successful, as high-performing and as targeted as the Cougars, who won their 14th state title this past February.
Moore recalls when she and her teammates made a tiny mistake that cost them one state crown. Coach Lisa Elliott told her to move forward, that there will be better things down the road to pursue.