Georgetown BSN Alumni Care for Patients in NYC COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit
April 13, 2020 – Two Georgetown BSN graduates, Olivia Gasser (NHS’18) and Samuel Taylor-D’Ambrosio (NHS’16), have been caring for adult patients in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
“Our pediatric ICU was transformed into an adult ICU with all of our pediatric patients being sent to NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital,” Gasser said. “As you can imagine, that was a big shock and required a big adjustment.”
Since then, she said, the hospital has started to admit adults with COVID-19 for ICU care. “Most of our patients are intubated and sedated,” she said. “It’s very alarming to see these adult patients on our pediatric floor, but it’s even more alarming to see them without any family members at the bedside. These patients are fighting for their lives without anyone at the bedside except the medical team, which has been the most difficult for me to see.”
Taylor-D’Ambrosio, who has been working at the hospital for four years, noted the unit houses around 20 intubated patients and nurses care for two to three of these individuals, often critically ill, during their shifts.
“It has certainly been a period of drastic change and adjustment,” he said. “In addition to the patient population and the volume of critically sick patients, the unit has also transformed physically. Temporary walls have been erected to protect nurses at the nurses station, and PPE has become a central part to every patient interaction.”
Blessings and Empathy
Gasser said she has tried to focus on the blessings she has, including the privilege of providing patient care, while facing anxiety and sadness. (Read a recent profile of Gasser’s work by her high school, Oak Knoll.)
“The most prominent reflection I’ve had as I process every shift is that it’s not the medical side of this disease that scares me, it’s the emotional component,” Gasser said. “It’s the fear of my loved one or myself being in that bed. It’s the sadness I have watching these patients die alone. It’s the anxiety that we won’t have enough vents for these patients or I’ll have too many patients to provide proper care to each one.”
“However,” she added, “I try to find the blessings in everyday life, and I am extremely blessed to be in this profession, in New York City, and providing care to these patients and their families.”
Taylor-D’Ambrosio said “there are so many stories and reflections from the past couple weeks that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
“Namely, in the face of fear and tragedy, you have to be empathetic and meet people where they are,” he said. “In the past couple weeks, we’ve FaceTimed with families who just made their loved one a DNR. We’ve done post-mortem care on people we’ve known for three hours. We’ve held hands with dying patients just so they wouldn’t die alone. You have to step outside of yourself and try to understand and absorb both the tragedy and the humanity inside and outside of the hospital.”
Taylor-D’Ambrosio said that “Georgetown prepared me extremely well for the past four years of my job, with no exception now.”
“A fair amount of any job is learned after you start, but the foundations of my practice were given to me at Georgetown,” he said. “I was taught to think critically and to prioritize my care. When you have three patients who are intubated and sedated, you have to figure out what is urgent and what can be delayed. And while you’re doing that, try to stay calm and collected, like all of my nursing role models in the NHS.”
Gasser said that “at Georgetown, I learned the importance of seeing God in all things,” and she has “extreme faith” in God’s active presence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the biggest thing my Georgetown education taught me that has prepared me for this pandemic is the importance of implementing the Jesuit values into everyday life and care,” she said. “I personally believe cura personalis, men and women for others, and social justice are more important than ever right now as we are treating patients from all backgrounds battling the exact same disease.”
A Supportive Team
Gasser said her colleagues at the hospital and the surrounding community have been a source of support during this difficult time.
“Without my co-workers, I would not be able to do the work we are currently doing,” she said. “My co-workers are my support, resources, shoulder to cry on, and source of positivity I need during every shift. Our team has really come together, and it’s extremely empowering. Moreover, many restaurants, organizations, foundations, families, and friends have been donating meals to us, which definitely puts a smile on everyone’s faces during our very hectic shifts.”
“The nurses whom I work with at Cornell are nothing short of incredible,” he said. “I learn from their excellence every day. We have become one big, self-sustaining support system. We cry to each other and make each other laugh when we know someone needs it. None of us would make it through this time without one another, and I will never take this camaraderie for granted again.”