Above: Mary Anderson, right, suited up to work with COVID-19 patients at Miriam Hospital.
By Hope McKinney
When the pandemic hit, units in hospitals began to rapidly transform into COVID-19 treatment centers. Nurses were thrown onto the front lines of the crisis as essential workers working hands on with these positive patients – wearing gowns, face shields and masks for the entirety of their achingly long shifts. By April, a 22-year-old nurse at The Miriam Hospital, Mary Anderson, was one of those workers thrust into this situation after beginning her job in early February.
Anderson, an East Greenwich native (EGHS Class of 2016) moved to North Providence after she graduated from the University of Rhode Island in December. She was just finishing orientation on a medical-surgical floor when the unit transitioned into a COVID unit.
“First, the biggest challenge was just the fear,” she said. “Going into work, I’d be nervous because I’m new and then, also, it’s COVID and there’s a lot that we didn’t know. Even nurses that have been there for years have never seen this in their lifetime.”
Initially, the focus was on making sure staff all had the correct personal protective equipment and figuring out how to properly take care of COVID-19 positive patients, sick with such an unprecedented virus.
Anderson acknowledged the intimidating nature of walking into a patient’s room, cloaked in a gown and mask at all times.
“You can see the fear in their eyes and also the fear in ours,” she emphasized. “I can’t imagine being a patient and seeing everyone gowned up in all this fear.”
When you’re sick and in the hospital, one of the silver linings is being able to have the people you love the most visit you. Unfortunately, these patients have not been allowed to have any visitors. Therefore, nurses end up becoming more than just courageous caretakers – they become family, Anderson said.
“It’s a very emotional ride for me being the last person that they see before some of these patients unfortunately die and they don’t have their family with them,” she said. “We’re the last people they get to hold on to.”
Although this experience is painful, she acknowledged the honor she has felt being that person of comfort for patients. In fact, this is what’s made her even more confident in her career choice.
“I was definitely born to be a nurse because I love being able to be that support for them,” she said. “Being able to be a nurse during this crazy time has made me realize I love what I do.”
She also repeatedly highlighted the guidance, support and teamwork from her managers and coworkers that has kept her going and allowed her to remain positive in such a confusing and stressful time. She said they showered her with constant support, allowing her to feel less alone in a time that has been almost entirely defined by isolation.
On a lighter note, Anderson said the hospital plays the Rocky theme song for patients when they get discharged. She said this is one of the most rewarding things, especially due to the fact that it proves that some patients really are getting better.
She’s also grateful for all those who have been so supportive of health care workers in recent months.
But there’s some fear as well as the state opens up.
“I think the way we’re going about this in different stages is definitely a good idea; to start off slow,” she said. “If we start seeing a spike, we can always step backwards.”
With warmer weather and after months of being cooped up, many people are starting to disregard the practices of social distancing, sticking with small groups, and wearing masks. Anderson hopes people will follow the rules, even as she knows her hospital would be well-prepared if a second wave were to hit.
“I just want the public to know how much we’re working on the inside, on the frontlines, and we’re working so hard to end this,” she stressed. “It would all be a waste if they don’t continue to follow the rules. I know it’s getting nice out and everyone wants to have huge parties, so just be mindful of the people that are out there, working so hard to end and crush COVID.”
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