As the world around us battles the COVID-19, healthcare workers on the front lines show us daily that real-life superheroes walk among us. Though many, like Rocio Sanchez, a floating clinical resource nurse at Advocate Condell Medical Hospital in Libertyville, IL, insist: “I don’t think I am doing anything special. I’m just doing what I was trained to do.”
A single mother of three grade school-aged children and a 2016 graduate of Chamberlain’s Addison campus, the 30-year-old’s friends and family have dubbed her “Nurse Wonder Woman,” a moniker she has embraced on Instagram.
"I appreciate those who have worried about me and reached out with appreciation and words of encouragement,” she recently wrote. “I appreciate even more those who are staying home and aiding in flattening the curve. I admit that I’m a little nervous every time I go to work, but I make a conscious effort to remain positive. I’m trying my best to broaden my knowledge and enhance my skills to be able to better serve those as the need rises. I’m a float nurse, never before have I been more proud. From ICU to ED and everything in between. We go where we are needed.”
For Sanchez, one of many nurses Chamberlain honors as a Portrait of Courage during this year's National Nurses Week celebration, nursing has been a calling since she was a young girl and her mother was hospitalized and had a kidney removed. But the journey to become a nurse was challenging every step of the way. Struggling to overcome the obstacles is what led to her fascination with one of world’s most iconic superheroes.
"No one else in my family has a college degree or even suggested it was possible for me to become a nurse,” she said. “We grew up in a very low-income home and my family could not afford my education. So, I put myself through school, starting at a junior college, then going on to become a CNA and finally graduating from Chamberlain University College of Nursing. It was challenging, let me just say.”
That’s why hard work and clocking more than 100 hours each two-week period – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift (and often staying much later) and filling in every other weekend when her children are at their father’s, seems like what any nurse who is dubbed Nurse Wonder Women is supposed to do, she says. And, she says she was thrilled when the hospital accelerated her training and transition to critical care from floating nurse to cover the increasing demands of COVID-19. She has been assigned to the intensive care and emergency departments, along with a designated coronavirus overflow unit.
Her biggest challenge has been managing life on the home front where her family support network of childcare has all but dissolved in the quarantine.
“The hard part for me is that a lot of the support I had caring for my children while I was working is gone because my mother, who really helped us, is quarantined,” she says. “But my kids are really filling in and taking on a lot of responsibility.”
She is concerned about her three children —Jonathan 11, and twins Jiselle and Julian, 9, and shielding them from her exposure to the virus. Sanchez has created an elaborate clothing changing staging area in her garage and heads right for the shower in the adjacent bathroom before she hugs and says hello to her kids.
At work, most of the time she can stay in the here and now of what she is doing and keep her laser-like focus. But COVID-19 is not a kind disease and witnessing its destruction sometimes gets too up close and personal. The hardest part is watching patients who are extremely sick but are alone. As she and her colleagues are the ones close to the patient, they must become the family, she says. She helps families to connect with their loved ones through FaceTime, and helps communicate on their behalf. Still, it’s hard to watch family members who want to be there, but really can’t.
“COVID-19 is cruel in that people’s lives flip overnight and forever,” she said.
Yet it’s patient and family experiences that Sanchez says have enhanced her compassion and given her courage and a renewed determination to fight for the health of her patients.
"If I even come near to complaining, my family is quick to remind me, ‘Nurse Wonder Woman can do this,’” she says. “They remind me that this is what I wanted to do my whole life and now I am doing it. I’m taking care of patients just the same way those nurses took care of my mom and inspired me so much.”
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