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‘It is an unprecedented experience’: Laurel nurses make a stand on the front lines during coronavirus pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps Maryland residents at home and businesses shut down, there are still those who are needed to take care of the sick.

Whether suffering from a broken bone or from the new coronavirus, patients still need to be treated and they look to those in the health industry to help them. Wednesday, National Nurses Day, marked the start of National Nurses Week.

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The following Laurel nurses and one doctor are all working to keep people healthy during this time filled with unknowns.

Anh Thu Tran

It takes five minutes for Anh Thu Tran to get into her full personal protective equipment — gown, N95 mask, face shield and gloves — five minutes that can feel like an eternity to a patient’s whose blood pressure is falling while in intensive care and suffering from COVID-19.

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“You can’t jump in” to help, Tran said. “Nobody blames each other. You can’t put things on faster. You are told to protect yourself first. Everybody is stressed.”

A registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the Laurel resident sees only the sickest coronavirus patients, she said, and it can be overwhelming.

Anh Thu Tran, of Laurel, a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in full personal protective equipment.
Anh Thu Tran, of Laurel, a registered nurse in the medical intensive care unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in full personal protective equipment.(Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

“In the beginning, we had more older patients, 70s and 80s,” Tran said. “Now, there are 50s, 60s, a lot younger than we thought we would see.”

Her employer has kept the staff supplied with the necessary gear, but even that is not always enough.

“A lot of my co-workers, even doctors, have tested positive,” Tran said. “When you have a high concentration of very sick patients, even with the best, you still get it.”

That risk doesn’t make it any easier for the patients, Tran said, as it prevents family members from being with them when they need them most.

“It is emotionally difficult for them because the hospital is not allowing any visitors,” Tran said. “It’s been hard. We had a patient pass away, and we could not allow his wife to come visit him for the safety of the staff. It’s hard for the patient and for families because they can’t find that closure.”

With new cases every day, Tran does not believe the region has seen COVID-19′s peak yet. The best line of defense, she believes, is staying home.

“If you don’t live with someone, you shouldn’t visit that person,” Tran said. “It’s a chain effect that keeps going. The less people you interact with, the better."

At home, Tran relaxes by watching movies, playing video games and sleeping. She is thankful for her boyfriend’s support, as he cooks food for her and sleeps in a separate room.

“Be aware. If you do get sick, you probably will not get that sick,” Tran said. “Understand that some people can get really, really sick. Stay home. Hopefully, this will pass by soon.”

Jeanie Anastasi

As a registered nurse and clinical supervisor for the Children’s National Pediatricians, a children’s hospital in Gaithersburg, Jeanie Anastasi is required to put on full personal protective equipment if she helps with a patient.

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“It is very time consuming, stressful and hot to wear PPE and to do work,” Anastasi said. “It is not a comfortable experience.”

Most patients are now seen through online appointments in the afternoon. It is a practice Anastasi believes will continue once the pandemic is over.

Laurel resident Jeanie Anastasi is a registered nurse and clinical supervisor for the Children’s National Pediatricians, a children’s hospital in Gaithersburg,
Laurel resident Jeanie Anastasi is a registered nurse and clinical supervisor for the Children’s National Pediatricians, a children’s hospital in Gaithersburg,(Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

“Parents like it,” said Anastasi, of Laurel. “Parents are very happy they do not have to go anywhere with a sick kid.”

A limited number of in-person appointments are scheduled if a doctor does not feel a proper exam can be possible for the patient via online. Babies also must be seen in person so they can receive necessary immunization shots.

“We rearranged our space to allow 6-feet spacing,” Anastasi said. “We have a system in place to accommodate walk-ins with a sick child through a back entrance."

While her office has sent off tests for coronavirus, she cannot say if there have been any positives, She knows that within the Children’s National system, of which her office is a part, there have been positive cases.

Anastasi believes that the flu season is coming to a close. She and her co-workers have noticed a decline in sick children.

“Without kids in school or day care, they are not exposed and keeping well,” Anastasi said.

She said doctors are doing their best to diagnose children via the Zoom online conferencing platform.

“They have parents shine lights down throats looking for symptoms,” Anastasi said. “You have to bring urinary tract infections in. They are harder to do. Impossible without assessments.”

As to what the future holds, Anastasi is not sure. Typically, the office’s summer schedule is filled with physicals needed for school and students receiving required vaccines.

“We will accommodate what those patients need,” Anastasi said. “[COVID-19] has had lots of impact across the system.”

Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne

When her husband kept urging her to get dressed for work on her last day before maternity leave, Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne thought something was up. She still was surprised, however, when she saw her Highland neighbors gathered outside on a rainy day to giver her a “clap out” before she left.

“They made me signs and gave me flowers,” Clayborne said. “They’re excited I’m finally taking maternity leave and focusing on the new baby.”

As an emergency medicine doctor for the University Maryland Capital Region in Prince George’s County, Clayborne has worked with COVID-19 patients throughout the final months of her pregnancy.

“It is an unprecedented experience. So many people are sick, really sick,” Clayborne said. “A lot of people are terrified. We don’t know what is going to happen. Why do some people have severe symptoms and others flu-like?”

Highland neighbors honor Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne on her last day of work before taking maternity leave. She was shuttled between Capital Center, Bowie Health Center and Laurel Medical Center.
Highland neighbors honor Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne on her last day of work before taking maternity leave. She was shuttled between Capital Center, Bowie Health Center and Laurel Medical Center.(Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

Clayborne, who shuttled between Capital Center, Bowie Health Center and Laurel Medical Center, said the opening of Laurel Medical as a hospital for coronavirus patients definitely helped relieve the pressure at Prince George’s Capital Region. Both centers, however, are busy.

“There is a high number of cases in Prince George’s County,” Clayborne said. “It is an under-served population. They don’t have the resources.”

Since family members and visitors are not allowed in the hospital, Clayborne stressed the importance of being prepared and sharing vital health records and decisions with those close to you.

“In the ER, if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk,” Clayborne said. “We have to make big decisions in a short period of time. Really, people of all ages should think about it."

Clayborne talked with her husband about her wishes for herself and the baby in the event she falls ill.

“My husband is concerned,” Clayborne said. “I come home from work and strip down in the garage. I take off all my clothes off and go straight to the shower. Nothing is foolproof.”

Now that she is on maternity leave, she has another important job.

“Staying at home is a job; you are helping save lives,” Clayborne said. “You don’t see what I see when I cross that threshold at the hospital. It is chaotic, frantic and people are dying. It is very real.”

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