COVID-19 One Year Later – Memories from the Frontlines
For many, the beginning of March 2020 was still normal. Our kids attended school each day, neighborhood gatherings were scheduled for the weekend and the economy was humming along. The first sign that Colorado would not escape COVID-19 came when the first case hit Summit County. We’ve all witnessed what happened in the ensuing days, weeks and months.
What many people didn’t see was the behind-the-scenes planning that was taking place inside the walls at Mercy Regional Medical Center. Linda Young, Director of Clinical Nursing Services, remembers watching the pandemic unfold in New York as her team prepared for what lay ahead.
“I was one of the people who helped design Mercy and when that planning was taking place, SARS was a big deal,” she said. “Because of that, we designed the ICU to be closed off for respiratory illnesses. We were prepared as we could be for a disease that nobody really knew.”
Young, who grew up in Africa as the daughter of missionaries, had seen the impact of diseases like Lassa Fever and Cholera. She remembers the day the first suspected COVID-19 case arrived at the hospital.
“When the first COVID patient came in, we didn’t really know if they were COVID or not. The testing wasn’t advanced enough for us to really get a good sense,” Young said. “That patient experienced what we had seen – an entire physiological collapse.” Young remembers sending her team in to begin treatment.
“I sent my staff that I had trained and worked with so closely into that room and none of us new what was going to happen to us, to our families, to our friends,” she said. “It was really a time of deep introspection. What is going to happen to that person who just volunteered. It was a very sobering time.”
Despite those unknowns, the team at Mercy moved forward with their commitment to high-quality whole person care.
“The nurses just jumped right in - the patient always comes first. The doctor’s jumped right in - the patient always comes first.”
Not only were there questions about COVID-19 and how the virus behaved, but whether the protective equipment would be enough to keep the Mercy staff safe and healthy.
“We went through the whole dilemma about how do we use our PPE and would we have enough,” Young said. “There wasn’t enough information about the science. Is it airborne? Is it not? We had to trust that we were protected enough and fortunately we were.”
Young, to this day, is touched by how the community jumped in to start sewing PPE for the health care workers at Mercy. She said the food, the letters and the prayers helped everyone make it through the long shifts.
“The nurses, the staff, the doctors, we were all committed to keeping as many patients in this community as possible,” said Young. “We doubled our ICU overnight. Any nurse that had ever had an interest in ICU care was cross trained. They put themselves in harm’s way so we could have more people on our clinical roster. We wouldn’t have made it without that support.”
As COVID-19 became more prevalent and the hospital stays became longer, the ICU staff moved quickly to keep families connected through Zoom, Facetime and other digital platforms.
“The notion that families had to bring their family member in and they thought they would never see them again just broke our hearts,” said Young.
“The nurses came up with books and they wrote in them every day on every shift,” she said. “They wrote things like, ‘You had a great day today. We were able to slowly decrease the amount of oxygen on the ventilator that we were delivering to you. This is so exciting. Your lungs have been really slow to heal but it looks like things are starting to heal.’”
Young said the care team truly missed the opportunity to build a relationship with the patients and families, so the books provided a glimpse into their day-to-day life and became a testament to how much the patients were loved by the ICU staff.
After a year of COVID, Young says the staff has built upon an already strong and unbreakable bond.
“We have a team that we trust and that trust includes every associate, whether it is housekeeping who did their best to keep things clean or nutrition services who brought food to patients and staff,” said Young. “Everyone always asked, ‘What can we do, how can we make it better?’ Everyone here knows the mission is to always put the patient first.”