MERIDEN — The anxiety at MidState Medical Center was palpable at the start, but three nursing supervisors say after eight weeks caregivers have a better grip on coronavirus care and new ways to address their mental and emotional health.
“I feel like we’re on the downward slope of the roller coaster,” said Lori Nohilly, director of nursing and critical care. “We’ve kind of gotten into our routine.”
The Bristol resident, a nurse for 35 years, said the experience has been unique.
“I’ve never seen a rapid progression like that,” Nohilly said. “And the volume of people that we’re treating with this disease.”
The center’s nine-bed intensive care unit was quickly increased to 27 beds. Medical professionals from other hospital wings were reassigned to help with COVID-19 care.
“We’ve never had to do something like that before in the 35 years (I’ve been in nursing),” Nohilly said.
At the start nurses were very worried they would get sick or bring the virus home to their families because so little was known about COVID-19.
They say the anxiety has lifted a bit since, thanks to more understanding of the virus and the effectiveness of personal protective equipment.
The anxiety remains as does the mental toll of caring for severely ill patients. Nurses are also dealing with the emotional drain of making virtual connections between relatives and dying loved ones.
“Any nurse, caretaker ... that you talk to are almost all emotionally drained,” Nohilly said.
Nurses are used to supporting a patient’s family when they are in the room with a dying loved one. Now, nurses are sometimes asked to hold a hand and be a dying person’s last comfort when no one else can be there.
“To have to hold that iPad to the face of the patient who’s dying and have them say goodbye…” Nohilly said. “It’s a really hard thing to do.”
Throughout, nurses are wearing multiple masks, goggles, gloves, and other protective clothing.
“You’re physically exhausted, it’s hard to breathe,” Nohilly said.
Nohilly and her colleagues, nurse managers Jenn Kolakoski and Tara Zane, say they’ve tried to help their staffs manage their mental health largely through camaraderie and constant support. Nohilly oversees about 400 employees, Kolakoski and Zane each around 70.
They created a “tranquility room” with mood lighting out of an empty conference room as a refuge for staff.
“The saving grace has just been our culture and our teamwork,” Nohilly said. “The staff that are here are phenomenal.”
Kolakoski said the nurses haven’t had to worry about any shortages of personal protective equipment.
“Overall I am very thankful and grateful to MidState Medical Center,” Kolakoski said. “We’ve had everything that we’ve needed to take care of each other.” Hope
Zane, a Wallingford resident, said celebrating when patients are discharged has been the highlight of the last eight weeks.
“We need to remember that there are people that get better and go home,” Zane said.
Staff will usually line the hallways and cheer the patient as they exit the hospital and reunite with family members.
“When you see them coming in, sucking for air and not doing well ... and then they’re a brand new person going home, that’s extremely hopeful and meaningful,” Kolakoski said.
Donations from the community — coffee, lunch, masks, hand sanitizer — has also meant a lot, Nohilly said.
“There has not been one day in these past eight weeks that we have not seen something donated,” she said. Resurgence
With talks of the state reopening businesses and restaurants in the coming months, all three nurses expressed concern.
“I think that we have to be very, very cautious,” Zane said. “I am concerned about a resurgence. Because we’ve seen people get sick and die from this, we take it to heart. The concern is different (because of that).”
She added that science should guide government decisions.
The public should continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“I would just encourage people to wash their hands, all the time,” Zane said.