Madison Walat’s training didn’t involve FaceTime. Yet, there she was at the end of a 12-hour shift in the COVID unit at MediLodge of Alpena, holding an iPad so family members of a resident dying with the coronavirus could say their last goodbyes.
“It really tore me up,” said Walat, a licensed practical nurse. “That was so hard to sit there and hold the iPad while each family member told stories and cried.
“Automatically, not even thinking, I was holding the resident’s hand the whole time. He could hear the family’s voice and I was just holding his hand so he wouldn’t feel alone.”
From donning full-body personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, gowns and face shields to helping residents and family members communicate at a time when health care facilities are closed to visitors, a lot has changed in the world of nursing as Michigan continues to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then again, some things stay the same. Nurses are always “essential” workers. And through this trying time of change and uncertainty they remain committed to being what they have always been – caring patient advocates.
“There’s been so many analogies for the health care professionals such as ‘heroes’ or ‘superheroes,’ and I use the analogy of being ‘angels’ because they’re having to be guardians,” said Trissie Farr, chief clinical officer for MediLodge, a network of 50 skilled nursing facilities across Michigan. “They’re having to be caregivers. They’re having to be messengers. They’re having to disinfect iPads and facilitate the opportunity for a family member to be able to use FaceTime or Skype.
“When family can’t be there, it could be that the nurse is the last person that patient or resident ever sees before they leave this world. It’s hard on our staff having to deal with that responsibility, too.”
It’s not just hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. It’s also long-term care nurses – LPNs, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants who provide care for recovering COVID patients and also take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading to other residents.
Jamillah Lynn, for one, is thankful. Having battled COVID-19 for more than two weeks including an induced coma and 10 days of intubation to help her breathe, Lynn responded enthusiastically when doctors finally asked her if she was ready to leave the hospital: “Yes!” she almost screamed. After all, Lynn figured she was headed home. Instead, she was transported to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation.
In the COVID unit at MediLodge of Frankenmuth, Lynn regained her strength thanks to the caring, compassionate staff. Her nurses were sweet as can be. Her therapists challenged her and treated her with kindness. She was served a delicious variety of food that was safe and easy to swallow. She was given activity books to pass the time.
It was the next best thing to being home.
“The TLC I received upon arrival managed to take the pain away,” Lynn said. “I don’t remember their names, but I most definitely remember their faces and kindness.”
In recognition of National Nurses Month, we’re putting names to just a few of those heroic faces that are helping Michigan through the COVID-19 pandemic:
Walat has only been licensed as a nurse since January, so the pandemic has been a baptism by fire for her. On one hand, she doesn’t know when things will ever go back to normal like they used to be. On the other hand, she’s learning firsthand how nurses have always been guardian angels, no matter the circumstances.
“Every single day I get to make a difference is somebody’s life,” Walat said. “A couple weeks ago I worked many overtime hours. I just didn’t want to leave because I wanted to know what was changing with my patients on my wing. I’m loving seeing them out and getting to walk again.”
Thank you to Madison and all the other MediLodge long-term care nurses for what you do!