They don’t want to be labeled as heroes or superhuman because these two Chicagoland nurses say they are simply doing their jobs. And while caring for others may be their daily routine, Chamberlain Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program alumnae Emily Ann Keller, BSN, RN, ECRN, and Krystal Gardner, BSN, RN, have unknowingly begun to master the navigation of unchartered waters — protocols changing daily, screenings and temperature checks before they start their day and trying to remain calm during this unprecedented COVID-19 storm.
“I put my trust in educators and managers – knowing that they are going to provide me with a safe atmosphere to ultimately take care of my patients,” explained Emily Ann who works in the emergency rooms at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital and Community First Medical Center – Chicago Hospital. Her Chamberlain colleague, Krystal, who works at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on two floors including one dedicated to COVID-19 patients, agrees with her and adds, “you’ve got to roll with the punches.”
Embracing the ‘New Normal’
That means changing up the normal routine. While Emily Ann maintains her morning coffee fix, she enters work with a face mask and is handed fresh scrubs on her floor before huddling with the team to learn any new protocols for the day. Krystal follows a similar new routine but gives herself a few moments before each shift to mentally prepare for what’s ahead by watching two videos, one with a motivational song that has helped her get through past hard times. “I play both videos in my uniform right before I walk out the door and take five minutes to myself.” Once shifts are over, both women go home, toss their work clothes into the laundry and head straight to the showers to decontaminate.
Then it’s time to unwind – Krystal goes on a run and Emily Ann “lets loose on the elliptical” to keep up her endurance and then allows for plenty of rest. “You have to take care of yourself or else you’re not going to be able to take care of patients.” And – just like everyone else – they both are practicing social distancing and understand how hard it can be.
Staying Close to Family without Personal Touch
“It’s really hard to just talk to them,” Emily Ann said of her parents, whose home she moved out of six months ago. “You need people to be there for you and you can’t physically hold them. And you forget that touch from your mom or dad – when they hold you and tell you it’s going to be ok. You don’t have that now. Our thoughts are probably what scare us the most.”
To get through that, both nurses arm themselves with knowledge – at work and at home and then pass the information on to friends and loved ones. Krystal even takes it one step further – encouraging her dad’s employees to reach out to her with questions. “I will do my best to answer them… I’d rather properly educate them the best that I can than have them Google something.”
Research on Legit Healthcare Sites
Both suggest researching information on credible websites ending in .gov or .org, checking local hospital pages and visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, to ensure the information is supported by science and the healthcare field. “We don’t want to be anxious,” Emily Ann warned. “We want to stay alert and look at the facts.”
And how do they keep up their spirits every day? Teamwork around the clock. Emily Ann said Krystal, who will be a bridesmaid in her September wedding, is her rock. “I call her every day on the way home from work and if I didn’t have that, it would probably be a dark ride; a lot scarier of a roller coaster.” Krystal agreed, adding that the camaraderie inside the hospital has always been solid but now it’s been elevated a notch. “It’s always a big team effort,” she said. “Being in nursing or any interdisciplinary team. The ancillary staff that you have everywhere down to the environmental services that clean the room. Everyone plays a huge role and there's never a time when you're not a team.”
Teamwork More Vital Now
And now more than ever, colleague interaction is a must. “We have to alter our own perception and think twice about going into a room,” Emily Ann said about rooms with PUIs – a person under investigation who may be COVID-19 positive. “We have to modify everything that we do and we really have to cluster our care… When you have four or five or six patients who you’re trying to treat and trying to be compassionate with, it's hard to sit there and think about everything else. It’s a very big learning process.”
Emily Ann and Krystal reiterated the importance of social distancing, washing hands and wearing face masks. “That’s the best way to stop that spread,” they said, explaining the long wait times when caring for a PUI patient. “You have to wait a half an hour with nobody in that room before you could start cleaning it and that cleaning needs to take about 70 minutes. And then, at some of the hospitals, they're using a special light that kills off bacteria that's on the surface. That’s a long time to wait.”
Use This Time Wisely
While they admit the unknown can be unnerving, Emily Ann recommends everyone use this time to check in on family members. “This is a mini wake-up call in disguise to get us off of our phones or get off of social media and really connect with our families again.”
Both women appreciate the love and support for their jobs as healthcare professionals, but both stay humble, stating “it’s my job” and “I took an oath… this is what I was born and destined to do.” And both agree – “We’re no longer nurse strong… we’re healthcare strong now. And it’s not even just us – it’s the people who are staying at home too… We’re humanity strong!”
Appreciative and Thankful
We appreciate your commitment to the continued well-being of our Chamberlain community and support during this unprecedented time. Please visit the Chamberlain University website for the latest updates regarding COVID-19.
By Heather L Hurtado
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