The Frontier community is proud to have students and alumni serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the next few weeks, we are committed to sharing their stories in order to provide insight, hope and encouragement. Thank you to all the health care workers who are risking their own well-being daily to serve our nation. Click here to read more stories of courage and dedication.
Editor’s Note: Following is a personal account from the front lines of one of the COVID-19 hotspots, written by Joy McElyea, MSN, CNM, RN, CNEP Class 149, DNP Class 33, on April 1, 2020. We thank Joy for her work and allowing us to share her story.
I am a CNM and RN in Gunnison, Colo., a small town in Western Colorado that is one of the COVID-19 hotspots (last I checked we were number six, just below places in New York and Louisiana). Our county includes a ski resort — and ours, along with two or three others in Colorado, were among the earliest places hit. I’ve been on the front lines for a few weeks now, and I admit, I’m tired.
We are all nurses first, and this has primarily been my role. I’m a CNM in an outpatient clinic only (no deliveries), so initially I did see all of the OB patients in our clinic (my OB was one who was sick early on), counseling and answering questions based on what limited information we had. But primarily, I’ve been working at our small, critical access hospital in an RN role. Because we’re small, our staff is all cross-trained—I’m labor and delivery and medical surgery. My nursing background is corrections and long-term care. But these days, I’m standing next to ER doctors and EMS crews who are intubating my patients to send them to another, higher-care facility. We don’t have an ICU. Because we were hit early, we are still able to ship our patients to other hospitals in the state. I worry about when we can’t and suddenly I am the one taking care of that intubated, vented patient. I can only imagine the fear in larger hospitals, worrying about what to do there when beds and ventilators run out.
As an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), I know I’m trained well. I know how to stay calm, look at the big picture, utilize resources, quiet my mind, and find the steady voice to tell my patient they will be okay just prior to sedation. Later, I can find the strength to call my patient’s daughter and tell her that just before intubation, her father was calm and was able to laugh. And later still, in the quietness of a country night while I’m out walking my dogs (even quieter now that our county is on lockdown), I’m also able to tell myself that I will be okay.
I’ve watched the wave of awareness sweep over social media. The disbelief and downplaying, the shock when it hits someplace close, the panic over increasing reports from front lines, and then the sudden gut-punching awareness when it’s your patient. Just as silence in health care can be ominous (no infant cry after delivery, decreased breath sounds on auscultation, absence of heartbeat on a pronounced patient), the silence today on my news feed is also ominous. It means we’re all in the thick of it. We’re all telling ourselves to take that deep breath. We’re all so unbelievably tired.
The comforting routine of school returns for me next week (I have one term left in my DNP program). I am so thankful that Frontier continues on, adapting just like all of us on the front lines, supporting students just as we support our patients. Healthcare will be different after this, but the flexibility, empathy, understanding and forward thinking nature of the FNU community will prepare us well for whatever role we find ourselves in. And for that, I am grateful.