With health care workers in the spotlight and on the front lines, adapting to ever-changing protocols and dangers during the COVID-19 pandemic, National Nurses Week begins Wednesday and runs through May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. It’s going to be a special celebration this year, even as the pandemic alters the way nurses are honored.
“Nurses week is a big one and we have had to change it from what we typically are able to do do just because of social distancing,” said Carroll Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Stephanie Reid. “We are still trying to make our nurses feel appreciated.”
That will mean more individual recognition rather than the usual meal and celebration with nursing staff, according to Reid, but she said all 450 nurses working with or in Carroll Hospital deserve all the recognition they receive, not just for what they do every day, but for going above and beyond in a historic point in time.
“I’ve been a nurse over 40 years and never in my wildest dreams thought we would work through something like this,” she said. “I have seen and been so impressed and proud with nursing peers I work with every day. They never cease to amaze me.”
Nurses like Amy Dinaburg, who works in Carroll Hospital’s emergency department. She’s been a nurse for 10 years.
“My first career was, I was a scientist, I had a masters in molecular biology, and I discovered I am not a cubicle, lab person,” Dinaburg said. “I love people, I love to be on my feet, running around. I love biology and I love to help and nursing just seems to fit that perfectly.”
Coming from a psychiatric nursing background, Dinaburg began cross-training for the emergency department and found emergency medicine was really the best fit for her personality.
Carroll Hospital Critical Care Unit Nurse Nancy Yocum, meanwhile, knew nursing was the career for her ever since she worked in a hospital cleaning instruments during high school.
“I just thought it would be a really neat experience to work in the hospital helping people,” she said. “I have been a nurse for 43 years,” about 29 of those spent at Carroll Hospital.
But with COVID-19, both nurses have had to adapt to a new reality, primarily in terms of wearing protective gear and adapting to the always changing protocols designed to keep patients and health care workers safe.
“It’s labor intensive to get prepared to go into a room, and then be able to stay in the room with all your gear on, and communication is challenged, too,” Yocum said. “Sometimes the patients can’t understand you through all your protective equipment.”
“You look like you’re an astronaut,” Reid added. “It takes a little bit away from our patient one-to-one.”
But that doesn’t mean patients haven’t been able to communicate about the help they are receiving. Yocum noted, whether it’s while they are in the hospital, or once they are out, along with general support and recognition from the surrounding community.
“I would say the appreciation is more visible everywhere of late. The community has been super in sending meals, sending cards,” Yocum said. “Little gifts of encouragement from people. Lots of things to sustain us and encourage our spirit to press on.”
There have been all kinds of meals, from pizza to chicken sandwiches, delivered for hospital staff, according to Dinaburg, though she said the best gift anyone could give them is to help flatten the curve with regards to COVID-19.
“We’ve gotten so many donations and it’s lovely, it feels really good to be appreciated," Dinaburg said. “But for the most part what we really need is people to stay safe and stay healthy.”
At the same time, however, Dinaburg stressed that the emergency department is going to great lengths to keep potential COVID-19 patients and those with unrelated medical emergencies separates, and that people shouldn’t stay away from the hospital if they need help.
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“We take a lot of precautions to keep everybody safe — don’t wait for your appendix to burst to come to the ER,” she said. “But also you may want to contact your primary care doctor and consult with them about whether your visit is necessary.”
And so at a time when nurses are receiving so much support, but also facing the biggest challenges of their careers, Yocum said her message to those interested in joining the profession is clear.
“We need more nurses. Our nursing shortage is still present and we just need to encourage more young people to come into the field,” she said.
It is, just simply an incredible time to be a nurse, Reid said, with the mission of care giving never more in demand, and the challenges revealing the deep character of all those in the field.
“It’s draining, it’s hard, it really is a rough time. But they plug away, which is so incredible to me,” she said. “It’s easy to be a nurse when things are routine, but when it’s difficult, that’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s what you were always trained for.”