SAC nurses on the front lines of COVID-19


Sam Jette, Copy Editor

As we navigate the uncertainty of the recent pandemic, we are all grateful for health care
professionals. While many of us quarantine and social distance within our own homes, nurses remain on the front lines, fighting the virus to keep the rest of us safe.

The current risk of health care workers hits close to home for the Saint Anselm community,
because of the prominent nursing population on campus. The Crier was in touch with Saint
Anselm Nursing Alumni Heather Sullivan ’18, Meghan Golden ‘18, and Brittany Voto ’17 to see how they have adjusted to the crisis at work.

Sullivan works at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in both the Medical/Surgical Pediatric unit as well as the Pediatric Care clinic. She also works as a home care nurse for a female patient with a seizure disorder.

Golden works on the Intermediate Care unit at Weymouth’s South Shore Hospital. She normally cares for trauma and surgical patients, but her floor has now been converted to care for the hospital’s COVID-19 patients.

Voto works at the Intensive Care unit (ICU) of the New England Baptist Hospital. Prior to the pandemic, New England Baptist specialized in elective surgeries for orthopedic patients.
However, the pandemic has restricted all elective surgeries, causing the hospital to pivot. They now take over medical patients from Beth Israel Lahey Health, allowing for a higher capacity for COVID-19 patients at the sister hospital.

All three alumni agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the typical shift for a hospital nurse. “Recently my shifts have been busy,” says Golden, “Caring for the COVID-19 patients is new to all of us and the policies and treatments are constantly changing due to new findings and research.”

“The patients generally tend to be sicker and this means more time is spent in a single patient’s room, as well as with the interdisciplinary team trying to come up with a plan,” she explains.

Golden has cared for several COVID-19 patients, ranging from 26 to 80 years old. While some patients, such as the 26 year old, are able to fight off the virus on their own, others have been sent to the ICU for intubation in order to keep their oxygen levels up.

As hospitals adapt to an influx of patients, nurses have been sent back to the basics in terms of their skills. Nurses have had to manage even as essential supplies, such as pumps and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) dwindle.

“We have had to resort back to manually calculating drip rates for IV fluids and medications,” says Sullivan, “Ironically, this is a skill taught in nursing school that is written off as ‘one of those things you’ll never need to know’ because of the technology normally available in hospitals that is now scarce due to surging demand.”

Sullivan’s unit has begun accepting overflow patients to make room for COVID-19 patients on other units. Nurses on her unit have also floated to other, busier areas of the hospital. As a result, her team is smaller than usual, with a growing number of patients.

These sudden changes have caused nurses to adapt quickly. “My shifts at the hospital have
been extremely different each and every day. I never know what I am walking into,” says Voto. As a precaution, before Voto enters the hospital each day, her temperature is checked at the door, and she is required to report any new symptoms.

Despite the threat of contamination, nurses continue to go to work every day, braving fears of contracting and passing COVID-19 to their loved ones. “There is a wave of uncertainty and fear in not knowing if and when you could be exposed or start to feel ill,” says Voto, who has had a few exposures to COVID-19 positive patients in the ICU.

Although her hospital is not actively accepting transfers of COVID-19 positive patients, they still have cases present. Likewise, none of Sullivan’s patients have tested positive either, but limited testing supplies means they could be carriers who just have not been tested for the virus. This is even more unsettling due to the lack of resources meant to keep health care workers safe.

Newton-Wellesley requires staff to reuse masks and goggles, limiting workers to one mask per shift. Sullivan considers herself lucky, though; nurses at other hospitals are required to wear the same mask all week.

“The thought of not having the recommended supplies available to protect yourself and your
patients is frightening, especially for healthcare professionals who themselves or their family
members are at high risk for getting very sick from Coronavirus,” says Sullivan.

Voto shares Sullivan’s concern for others around her: “There’s so much pressure and guilt being on the front lines. I worry for my patients, my coworkers, and especially my family at home.” Voto discussed her fear of transmitting the virus to her fiancé, who she is quarantined with at home.

Because of her increased risk of exposure, Voto has not been able to see the rest of her
family in a while. However, while she misses family dinners, they are able to stay in touch
through FaceTime.

Saint Anselm nurses echo health experts in expressing the importance of social distancing and staying at home if possible. Golden reminds us to trust current research about how easily the virus can be spread and contracted. She, like many others, is concerned for more at-risk populations.

“Older people and those who have secondary diagnoses and are immunocompromised can easily become infected and often very sick,” she cautions. Even non-essential workers have a large role to play in flattening the curve.

“Being a Saint Anselm educated individual has taught me being a part of a community means doing your part, and I feel every non-essential worker is just as important as the essential workers in this time,” says Voto. “Staying home today will allow us a healthier tomorrow,” she adds.

While Saint Anselm nurses continue to battle the virus, acts of kindness from their communities fuel them to push forward. Golden’s hospital has received meals and supply donations, as well as chalk-drawn messages on the sidewalks to thank the health care workers.

“Although this whole experience has been very stressful and even scary at times for everyone, I am so grateful for all of the support that has been given to all of the hospital staff,” she reflects.