Nursing Alums on the Front Lines of COVID-19
Cat Brownfield ’18 and Nate Buoni ’18 graduated from University of Findlay’s Nursing Program with an adaptability that they are currently using to fight on the front lines of the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). They work in a 29-bed surgical trauma unit at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center that was recently converted to a COVID-19 rule-out unit. While they are facing many challenges, both in the workplace and in their personal lives, they feel as nurses they have been trained to adapt well to change.
On March 10 at 7:30 p.m. after beginning their night shift, Brownfield and Buoni received a call from their manager saying they would be switching gears and converting their surgical trauma unit to a COVID-19 rule-out unit. Patients who are suspected to have COVID-19 stay in this unit while their results are pending. The surgical trauma unit has single bed rooms that are ideal for the isolation that COVID-19 patients require, making it one of the safest units in the hospital for potential COVID-19 patients. That night the unit transferred their acute care surgery patients to other units and took on about 12 COVID-19 patients. “That was intimidating because we really didn’t have the chance to absorb it before everything was changing,” Brownfield recalls. But that’s where their nursing school training comes in. She remembers William Lightner, DNP, assistant professor of nursing, telling her class at Findlay, “The only thing you can expect in nursing is change.”
As part of the first graduating class of Findlay’s Nursing Program, they grew accustomed to the concept of adaptability. “Being new, our program was constantly changing,” Buoni recalled. “It forced upon us that adaptability that we’re utilizing now. We’re used to rolling with the punches. We spring boarded very quickly with this new change and we’re trying to stay on top of it the best we can.” This flexibility is important in the field of nursing because they have to have the knowledge and take on whatever patient comes through their door, Brownfield said.
The adjustments their unit has had to make have been drastic and occur on a daily basis. At the beginning of every shift, the team meets to discuss updated guidelines provided by The Ohio State University and the CDC. An average day in the surgical trauma unit would include packing wounds, wrapping freshly amputated limbs, and pain management. In contrast, an average day in the COVID-19 unit focuses on wearing the proper equipment, paying attention to if they’re in negative airflow or not, and educating patients. “It’s just a completely different population,” Brownfield said. “It’s a lot more making sure the body is functioning correctly versus healing a wound or healing a body in a different way.”
They treat more stable patients who could eventually go home and educate them on how to quarantine properly. “That’s a fortunate thing,” Brownfield said “We see people who can walk and talk and be able to tell us they are having a hard time breathing instead of having to guess if they’re having a hard time breathing.” If their condition worsens, they have to transfer them to ICU where they can use ventilators. Buoni recalls a recent shift where a patient was on the road to being discharged, but started decompensating and their oxygen levels dropped. “That’s where we step in to make sure they are ok and see if we can get them back up to ICU to get them ventilated,” he said.
In addition to adapting in the workplace, Buoni and Brownfield have had to make changes outside of work as well. “It’s anxiety inducing because we both have spouses and we both have family that we have to be very careful around,” Brownfield said. “I have moved into our second bedroom, so my spouse can stay healthy and that’s emotional. When you’ve been with somebody for almost ten years and all of a sudden, you’re in a different room, it’s difficult.” Buoni has also been staying in a separate bedroom to protect his spouse and says from the moment he comes home, he is cautious. “I walk through the door and I have to send off my dogs so they don’t jump on me,” he said. “I remove my clothes in the mud room and then go through the back door and then throw everything in the wash and douse it in ammonia. Then I have to make sure they don’t jump on me before I take a shower because I’m trying to be cautious.” Both have also had to limit time with other family members, especially those who are in the age group of 50+. “I’m starting to not see my parents at all. Just phone calls, text messages,” Buoni said. “It’s a harder sort of social distancing because it’s social distancing because we could hurt them potentially and that would make us feel bad.”
While they find it challenging having to distance themselves physically from their support systems, they’ve found ways to cope with the stress. Brownfield copes by spending time outside and singing in a choir via Zoom, and Buoni likes to unwind by walking his dogs and playing video games. Both agree that having each other and co-workers who can relate to what their experiencing is helpful. “Nate is my best friend from nursing school and we happen to work on the same unit now,” Brownfield said. “So, there’s a lot of texting back and forth and understanding where each other is coming from because we have that shared experience.”
Brownfield has also been able to keep in touch with her Findlay classmates and professors to see how they are adapting. The one-on-one attention she received during her time at the University fostered relationships with her professors that she can rely on to this day. “I still have a decent relationship with Dr. Lightner – he’s still on the front lines himself; he still works while he teaches,” she said. “I’m able to bounce things off of him or there’s emails back and forth with different professors who continue to be instrumental in our career and our lives because they’ve been able to pass along their knowledge and their experience.”
Brownfield and Buoni’s advice to the public is to wash their hands, follow social distancing guidelines, follow the CDC and what local officials are saying, and donate any spare masks to hospitals. “Once this is all over, don’t lose that drive to wash your hands; don’t lose that drive to clean things,” Buoni said. “Keep the cleanliness practices that we’ve obtained during this time and carry it beyond this time so that it prevents anything else from spurring later.”
To learn more about Findlay’s Nursing Program, visit www.findlay.edu/nursing.