Patti DeLine, a nurse manager at Spectrum Health Grand Rapids

Nurses on How they Overcame Fear, Anxiety During Height of the Pandemic

As their patients fought for their lives against the new coronavirus this spring, nurses and health care workers fought their own fears.

Standards and best practices changed by the hour as doctors learned more about how the virus wreaked havoc on the body. Nurses worried they’d bring COVID-19 home to their families or expose sick patients to the disease. Experienced medical teams faced a disease they knew nothing about – and the unknowns caused high anxiety.

“It was very quickly a stressful situation for our nurses,” said Patti DeLine, nurse manager of the medical intensive care unit (ICU) at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

DeLine manages a team of nurses that cared for COVID-19 patients in the ICU. The stresses of the job – combined with the uncertainty of the pandemic – pushed them to the edge.

“I don’t know that difficult is a strong enough word,” she said. “There were tears every shift. There was also an amazing amount of resilience.”

DeLine said her staff started recognizing each other’s stress and talking about it openly. The team started a flower garden, where everyone wrote down something that was keeping them healthy and grounded on a paper flower to post in the unit.

“They’ve done a really great job of being flexible and creative. They’re experts, even with their own fears,” DeLine said. “They’ll be in my office crying, get a call and put their mask and their face shield on and be back in that room.”

Battling More Than Stress

Anna Liza Casem is a clinical nurse manager at Beaumont Hospital Troy. She manages a team of nurses that typically take care of people before and after they’ve had major surgery – but due to the pandemic, her department was converted into overflow space for the ICU. As a leader, Casem knew her team was stressed.

“I told them we would get through this,” Casem said. “I needed to show them that we can make it. You need to have a plan.”

Though she took all the precautions, Casem came down with COVID-19 herself. She was hit hard by the virus – and was off work for a month. By the 10th day of her sickness, she was struggling to breathe.

“When I inhaled, it felt like a sandbag on my chest,” Casem said. “When I exhaled, it felt like something was ripping off of my back.”

Leaving her team in the middle of the pandemic was even harder. But her positivity carried her through.

“You just need to take one thing at a time,” Casem said. “The more you doubt yourself the more you worry – and you’re not going to achieve anything.”

Staying Strong

Now that she’s back at work, Casem said her team is prepared for the future. Everyone had a chance to provide feedback on things that could be improved about their pandemic response, which Casem said helped her team immensely.

For both Casem in Troy and DeLine in Grand Rapids, finding balance in their days helped them manage the stress of working in a hospital during the pandemic.

“You need to make sure you have time for yourself,” Casem said. “It’s a matter of balancing time for yourself, your family and work.”

DeLine said going home was the biggest relief.

“What kept me sane was my family,” DeLine said, explaining that her husband took over caring for her children and the household, as he was furloughed from his job. “Home was a safe place where I could go and not talk about COVID all day. We could talk about getting the camper ready or cutting down a tree. We tried to keep it separate.”

As the pandemic continues, DeLine and Casem said they can’t predict what’s on the horizon – but they’re both confident that with the knowledge they obtained from the surge of cases this spring that their nurses and hospitals will be prepared for whatever comes next.

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Photo: Patti DeLine, nurse manager of the medical intensive care unit at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy of Spectrum Health Beat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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