During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kerry Boysen, ’13, keeps her focus on providing proper care to her patients, no matter how uncomfortable she may be.
From the moment she steps on the campus of Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, Texas up until the second she leaves, Boysen must wear a surgical mask at all times. She may only remove the mask when changing into a new one.
That is the least of her concerns.
“I am grateful for the protection, but it is uncomfortable and makes it hard to communicate with patients who are hearing impaired,” Boysen said. “I have to make sure my smile makes it up to my eyes because that’s all others can see.”
Boysen’s “smile” and nurturing spirit go a long way for patients who are unable to see their very own family unless they are “actively” dying.
“Patients rely solely on us to provide comfort, especially those who are confused or anxious,” Boysen said. “I’ve had to get creative and hold the phone up to my patient’s ears so they can hear their loved one’s reassurances.”
The stress of Boysen’s job often extends past the walls of the hospital.
“I receive more calls than ever from anxious family members who feel powerless at home,” Boysen said. “I worry about the healthcare workers being harassed in public for getting gas or coffee in their scrubs. Just last night I had a first-time experience of feeling like a leper as my neighbor fled inside her home when she saw me coming home in my scrubs.”
Despite the despair and tragedy of the pandemic, Boysen and her co-workers do their best to maintain a healthy attitude during these tough times.
“As always, the medical staff relies on their dark sense of humor and teamwork to get through the long shifts,” Boysen said. “You have to roll with the punches more than ever as situations can change unexpectedly at any time.”
An unexpected outcome of COVID-19 is that Boysen has been able to reconnect with former NIU nursing classmates who are fighting the same battle in their respective workplaces.
“(COVID-19) has rekindled some old NIU friendships as we all are checking in with each other and sharing our experiences as we are all scattered around the country now,” Boysen said.
It has also rekindled memories and techniques that Boysen learned as an NIU nursing student.
“I am remembering things that I haven’t had to think about in my specialty since nursing school,” Boysen said. “So there’s some nostalgia in these ‘ah-ha’ moments.”
“A lot of the time it’s not learning something new, which nurses do every day, but re-learning something in the far reaches of your brain that has not been relevant until our routine becomes botched by a pandemic.”
Work is a struggle these days for Boysen, but she is encouraged that, while most will never experience what she goes through, they are empathetic in her daily fight against the coronavirus.
“It is undeniable that the current vibe at the hospital is even more tense than usual with grief and uncertainty,” Boysen said. “The community has started to recognize our increased emotional and physical burden and people have offered whatever they can to show their support.”
“It is a beautiful silver lining, but I am worried all the time,” Boysen continued. “My soul is tired, and I never know what my day will bring when I go to work.”
“It is not a question of ‘if any patients will die,’ it is ‘how many patients will die today?’”
This does not even take into consideration Boysen’s concerns regarding her own family.
“I am worried about my older parents with chronic health issues and my brother-in-law on immunosuppressants,” Boysen said. “I am scared to hug and kiss my young children. I’ve asked my all-too-willing husband, who used to smoke, to drink some of my breast milk designated for my baby just in hopes that I can give him some antibodies.”
It is only natural, however, for Boysen to have personal concerns, both mental and physical.
“These patients are SICK,” Boysen said. “Our banquet hall has been turned into a pop-up overflow ER with tents and stretchers. Our PACU (Post-Anesthesia Care Unit) has become an overflow ICU, using the anesthesia equipment as extra ventilators.”
“We are bracing ourselves for impact, and the stress of it is crushing,” Boysen continued. “I recently heard someone use the term Pre-TSD to describe what healthcare workers are feeling. We have the symptoms of PTSD from the anticipation of trauma and the situation has not even peaked yet.”
Boysen is particularly alarmed at the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for not only herself and her teammates, but healthcare professionals across the United States.
“I am worried that most American hospitals only recommend and supply us with surgical masks when I see other countries’ healthcare workers in HAZMAT suits,” Boysen said. “They save respirators and goggles for special circumstances only.”
“Some hospitals have run out of PPE completely and staff are forced to make their own less-effective protection,” Boysen continued. “Healthcare workers are starting to become patients all over the world and some have died.”