Nikki Johnson ’92

Three days a week, Nikki Johnson spends 12 hours by her phone, waiting.

So far, she hasn’t received the call she’s been waiting for. Johnson, ’92, is a nurse at Franciscan Crown Point in Crown Point, Indiana. With the outpatient surgery center where she usually works shut down due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Johnson is now on call to provide backup support to the main hospital should a surge in patients overwhelm the regular staff.

“I haven’t gone in at all. I’m just at home waiting to be called,” she said. “It’s been really weird. I feel a little helpless.”

Johnson has spent the last 22 years working in operating rooms and the experience of not being needed at work is uncomfortably new. She reads all she can about the virus and “obsessively” follows statistics about its spread.

At times, the news around the epidemic has been frustrating. “It should not be so difficult,” Johnson said, “to get medical professionals the personal protective equipment they need.” She hopes the government and industry will recognize the need to increase domestic manufacturing of such equipment.

In the early days of the virus’ spread, even social media was frustrating. Too many people had a cavalier attitude, downplaying COVID-19’s severity and comparing it to the flu. In recent weeks, Johnson has been heartened to see attitudes changing. As the number of infections and deaths climbed, she has seen Americans taking it more seriously and doing what they can to slow the spread.

“I feel like people get it now,” she said. “The biggest thing you can do to support healthcare workers is to stay home. Stop spreading the virus so we have enough beds to take care of the sick.”

While she was being cross-trained to work on the hospital floor, Johnson cared for sick patients in the process of learning whether they had COVID-19. While none of her patients tested positive, Johnson said everyone at the hospital, even those without the virus, are feeling on edge.

“Everyone is scared and anxious, and everyone needs to be treated with empathy,” she said. “Staff are scared and anxious, too. We need to really do all we can to help each other.”

While she waits, Johnson has found space for gratitude.

“It’s a good sign that I haven’t been needed,” she said. “It shows people are doing what they can. I wish I could be there and helping, but at the same time I’m glad I can stay safe and not exposed.”

She is also grateful for the unexpected gift of family time. Johnson has been self-isolating with her husband, a railroad worker, her daughter, 19, and her son, 15.

“We’re definitely spending more time together, which is nice, especially with older kids,” Johnson said. “When you have teenagers, you don’t usually get that kind of together time with them. But we’ve been hanging out together, having ping-pong tournaments, cleaning out closets, that sort of thing. Things we don’t usually have time for because our lives pull us in different directions.”

While she waits with her family, Johnson continues to self-educate and to stay as healthy as she can. When the phone rings, she will be ready to take up the baton from the tired nurses working on the hospital floor.

“I really miss my job,” she said. “I am so ready to help those afflicted by this terrible virus. I have never been so proud to be a nurse.”