Heroes among us Covid-19
I feel kind of lame that the only thing I’m doing to help the world pandemic is staying home, while little angels are working like crazy to provide medical care and compassion during this world catastrophe. Yes, we may not see them but there are heroes among us. In fact a dear friend of mine made the choice to leave Walla Walla Washington and go to where she was needed. This is her story – heroes among us, a mother-daughter team from Washington State making a difference in New Jersey.
I’ve known Stefanie Lehman for about fifteen years. And I’ve known her daughter Lily since she was a little girl. Stefanie was a massage therapist when I met her, but she always talked about her dream to be a nurse. But as a single mother of three she had to put that dream on hold until her children were grown. Her daughter Lily went through childhood cancer when she was fifteen. Ever since that experience, Lily too talked about being a nurse. Lily is 25 years old today.
Stefanie was working as a nurse at the Walla Walla Veterans Home Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center, while Lily was working St Francis Medical center in Colorado Springs.
Stefani and Lily made the choice to leave their jobs and take temporary assignments in New Jersey – one of the hardest hit areas in the USA for Covid-19. From my cozy, comfy, covid-free home in Washington State I interviewed Stef and Lily about their experience and what they are seeing on the front lines of this pandemic;
How did it come to pass that you both went to New Jersey?
Stefani -It was Lily’s idea. During a conversation at the beginning of April, she said to me, “Mom, I want to go, but I’m afraid to go alone. I have been praying about it but I need a sign.” So I discussed it with my husband Greg and called her back and said I thought we should go together. I applied with the agency and was approved and offered a contract. I think she was going to go anyway, I’m not thinking my presence was going to seal the deal, but I think it was helpful knowing I would be there. Quitting my job at the VA was difficult, but at the same time, I knew there was something else out there that I needed to do. Long term care has been an awesome experience, but I think after I’m done here I’m going to pursue a job in acute care and hopefully some day in the NICU or pediatric oncology.
Lily – I work on a “medical surgical” unit but I am primarily medical, and we specialize in non-intensive cardiac patients and stroke patients. The patient census was half of what it usually is at my hospital, and I was getting called off probably once a week (out of my three shifts) due to the floor being essentially over staffed at this point. I have always felt a drive to be working “in the trenches” as a nurse.
What does the day-to-day work look like for you?
Stefani – My shift is usually 3pm to 11pm. When I get home after a shift it is almost midnight. I have to strip down to skivvies throwing all my scrubs into a laundry bag, get in the shower, wind down, then sleep. I usually go to bed around 1:30-2am, waking up about 10 or 11, eating breakfast/lunch and starting all over again.
Lily – Everyday is different. I am floated anywhere from ICU, or the other 2 ICU overflow units to just another floor to take my own assignment of patients. When we first got here, all the floors were “COVID floors” there weren’t any special units anymore. Just put the people where they fit basically. In ICU I get paired with an ICU nurse since they have 4 patients most days instead of 2 (like they are supposed to have). This takes a load off of them since I can pass most of the meds for them, and take care of everything in my scope, as well as have a second pair of eyes on these critically ill patients. It has been a really cool team effort to be a part of and I have learned a lot from them.
How is it mentally, physically and emotionally?
Stefani – The actual job is difficult. The dynamic in this facility is nothing like what I have experienced in Walla Walla as a new nurse. It is more like an acute care facility as they have new admits almost every day. Some are there for rehab or till they are covid negative, and some live there. Nevertheless, the RN role is rough. I have had to learn how to multi-task in ways I never thought possible, trouble shoot when there are a lack of supplies, and learn how to handle multiple residents with multiple problems, while trying to pass meds, some that are time sensitive, make sure insulin is given on-time, answering calls from doctors needing lab results, taking calls from family members wanting status updates, and always trying to keep myself protected by wearing two N95 masks,and a face shield, hair covering and a gown. The gowns are terrible as they make you sweat unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s all you can do to stay hydrated hour to hour. One of the most frustrating things is lack of supplies, especially gloves. You almost have to lock your box of gloves in your med cart because people will actually take them. A lot of these residents take their medications crushed in applesauce, and when you can’t find any, it’s rough. I sometimes will have to walk all the way down to the kitchen to get some, or call for some, but I have found when they bring it up, another nurse will intercept it and put it in their own cart – this has happened to me twice and I had to say “Hey, I need some of that”! It’s very frustrating.
Lily – It’s hard to be in a new place, with unfamiliar equipment, unfamiliar people, and just every policy, protocol, process, etc, you have to figure out as you go, on top of the existing stress of being a nurse. But the day flies by and everyone at my hospital has been really kind and helpful.
Do you have any free time?
Stefani – I do have 2 days off usually. Lately it has been Sunday and Monday. Lily and I tried to get the same days off, and so far so good. She has an actual schedule, and they only give me 2 to 3 days at a time. I have been lucky to stay busy, but as their actual staff are coming back from their Covid illnesses my hours this week are a little less. I’m hoping to pick up additional hours at their facility in Wayne, NJ. when I do have free time I try to get caught up on laundry, and clean up in my room. They do not have housekeeping services “in room” at this hotel for safety reasons, so I can call and ask for fresh linens/towels, toilet paper, and vacuum my own room. I’m thankful to be in a nice hotel that is right next to the NJ police department and the Federal Reserves. I was out walking a couple weeks ago, and walked down the side walk where the Federal Reserve building is, and I saw a police officer walking towards me, so as a courtesy to social distance, I stepped out into the street, and then he stepped out into the street, and I thought, oops, maybe I’m not supposed to be walking here. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was a travel nurse with the day off out for some fresh air. He politely redirected me. They mean business over there!
Lily – I have 3 days off per week, so I try to do things that feed my sanity, like walking in beautiful parks, seeing the ocean, coloring, watching Friends on TV (I think that’s a go-to for both me and my mom), or of course, enjoying a nice glass of a good red! 🙂
What does NYC feel like in lockdown?
Stefani – Lily and I drove to NYC once so far. We went to Times Square. No traffic whatsoever, some people walking on the streets, all with masks, police EVERY where on every corner. We were able to park the car, and walk around a bit and do a live video so that was nice. I have never been here before, I have only seen pictures of the traffic, but there was absolutely no traffic at all.
Lily – It is really bizarre to see NY so scarce. Like, I remember being here when I was 16 with my grandma, and we could barely get down the sidewalk. You could do cartwheels for an hour down the sidewalk and not run into anybody now. I think it’s eerie but also for sure a once in a lifetime experience to see such a famous city like this during lockdown. Really put things in perspective of how scary this has all become.
What would you like the average person to know about the situation from a health care providers point of view?
Stefani – Hmmm that is a hard one. I know this is serious. We are dealing with an actual pandemic, something I never thought would happen in my lifetime. Working with most of these residents who are COVID positive is pretty scary, but I’m doing my best to stay protected. We are living in a world now where things have changed. The old normal will not be the new normal, and that will be something we all will need to get used too. It bothers me a little when people get so angry about having to wear a mask. To me, its not that big of a deal. Let’s let the dust settle, and see what comes next. There are rules and laws for a reason, not just to make people mad. I am in the thick of it, and I am scared sometimes, especially being on the other side of 50 now, maybe I have some immunity built up, maybe I had it and didn’t know it, who knows? I pray every day God will keep Lily and I and all the healthcare workers safe. I do my best to NOT watch news while I have time off.
Lily – My grandma was a doctor who transferred by dog sled to help Eskimos and other native Alaskans in their home during a surge of tuberculosis for a large part of her career and I think that tenacity of hers was passed on to me to just get out there and help where I can. It all happened so fast that I definitely feel it was a God-send, at least that’s what I hoped. My recruiter was awesome and tried the best she could to put my mom and I as close together as possible.
Stefani – I am glad I made the decision to break out of my comfort zone and come to New Jersey. Not to be a hero, not for attention, I did this to help make a difference even if it is in the smallest of ways. I came here to be with my daughter, and do something meaningful together. As a new nurse at 50 years old, I really knew there was more out there for me than what I was doing. I loved my job at the VA, I was sad to leave it, but in my gut I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my nursing career which may be only 15 years, retiring at 65. I want to pursue acute care, and pediatrics. I have learned that I have thicker skin than I thought, and I can actually call myself a nurse and feel good about it! Do I have a lot to learn? Yes, absolutely. I loved learning from the seasoned nurses I worked with at the VA, and they helped me gain the tools and confidence I have today. Having confidence in yourself as a nurse is huge! I don’t think I’m 100% confident all the time, but for the most part, that has been a big part of being able to be here, knowing I CAN do this. I am proud of myself, I powered through the most difficult situations in nursing school, clinicals and taking the NCLEX. It was the most brutal life changing experience I have ever faced, leaving me with a little PTSD. Nursing school was traumatizing, but I am glad I didn’t quit, and lord knows there were times I was in tears to my husband saying “I’m too old for this, I can’t do it.” But with his love and support, and having an “I am not going to quit” attitude, here I am– A graduate nurse at 50 years old, living across the country with a new RN license, fulfilling a dream I’ve had for over 10 years. I did it! I’m a “fabfiftysnurse” and I cant wait to see what the future holds!!
Lily – I would like people to know that just from what I have personally seen, it doesn’t matter what age you are or what your immune system looks like, I have watched people die anywhere from a perfectly healthy 29 year old, to a 87 year old, and all the ages in between. I don’t think the virus cares what your body has or hasn’t dealt with, it attacks in such different and unique ways in many people, a lot of them really unexpected. There was one man in particular who was 40, and had been on the ventilator for almost 27 days. I really hadn’t done much that day because I was a “helper” in the critical care unit. I felt really useless but helped the nurses where I could. They are very busy. I offered to face-time this man’s family so they could see him (the only way they could see him since there are no visitors allowed) before the shift ended. I basically lost it seeing his wife, children, and brothers cry, and laugh and talk to him for 30 minutes as he laid their unresponsive. This man was 40 years old, he had children in elementary school that had to look at him with his eyes swollen shut. It really broke open a piece of me that I hadn’t let really manifest yet. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Whatever the media says, or you neighbor says, take everything with a grain of salt. Just live your life, be careful, don’t take your loved ones for granted. Much love!
Thank you my friends.
Heroes among us Covid-19. THANK YOU Stefani and Lily and the thousands of medical workers who put their own healthy and safety second to help the tens of thousands of people in the USA suffering from Covid-19.
God Bless you all.
Please share Stefani and Lily’s story.