BSN Alumna Provides Care for Patients in COVID-19 ICU in Maryland
April 30, 2020 – During the first year of her nursing career, Lauren Ridlon (NHS’19) has worked in a cardiac care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital. That unit has been converted to a COVID-19 unit, and the Georgetown nursing alumna and her colleagues have been providing care to patients affected by the virus. “Even through the hardest days, I am able to experience and hopefully emulate what made me fall in love with the career of nursing: humanity,” she said.
Question: Where do you regularly work at the hospital?
Ridlon: I work on the cardiac care unit which is an intensive care unit focusing on cardiology. We have the opportunity to work with patients dealing with life-threatening arrhythmias, help patients recover after a heart attack, care for patients in heart failure, and build relationships with patients waiting for a heart transplant. We also work with various machines for life support. My team is incredible. The staff is so passionate about their work and every single staff member and patient is valued. Our floor is very close, and there is always someone ready to teach you or support you as need be.
Question: How has your work changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ridlon: The past month has been pretty fast paced. We converted in one week to a COVID ICU. We moved all of our patients to another cardiac floor that would provide excellent care, and overnight walls were built to make us a negative pressure unit. Every shift, we change into OR scrubs, do our huddle in a new place, and go to a “donning” area where a safety officer assists us in putting on PAPRs [powered air-purifying respirator]. We wear the PAPRs for our entire shift, only taking it off during our mandatory breaks every two hours to prevent our exposure as much as possible.
Our patients are very sick. We are collaborating with new doctors, new nurses who float to our floor to assist with the acuity, and a new illness that is sneaky and terrible. Because we are originally a cardiac floor, we care for many patients on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is a machine that basically acts as the lungs, or the heart and lungs, so that those organs can rest. Some require a ventilator, dialysis, different drips for sedation, and new techniques to help with oxygenation. There is a lot of learning and studying right now for both new and experienced nurses.
Work, though difficult, has also become extremely gratifying. I have seen a new community arise both on my unit and in the hospital. The collaboration between doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, PT/OT, pharmacy, environmental care, child life and patient relations is incredible. Our leaders are frequently checking in and sending encouragement. Every single day, we are coming in to meals, cards, and posters of encouragement from coworkers, families, friends, and other hospital units. Being away from family and friends is hard right now, but I am lucky that work is my family.
Even through the hardest days, I am able to experience and hopefully emulate what made me fall in love with the career of nursing: humanity. Now more than ever, we are able to give encouraging words, provide healing touch, and make sure no patient is alone during the worst moments. It is the moment when patients reach for your hand, squeeze your hand even when heavily sedated, or smile at you when you try to make them laugh through your language interpreter that I really can feel the true meaning of being a nurse. While we could never substitute what it is like to have their loved ones nearby, at least our patients can try to rest knowing how much we care for them.
Question: How has what you learned at Georgetown prepared you to participate in the COVID-19 response?
Ridlon: There are three big messages from Georgetown nursing that have helped me during this time.
First, our nursing professors instilled in us to always remember the person in the patient. This is something I see practiced every day, whether it’s putting a phone on speaker for an intubated patient whose family wants to say “I love you,” talking to a sedated patient while providing care, explaining why we are dressed the way we are, and respecting a patient’s wishes even until the end. It’s an extremely hard time to be a patient. COVID-19 is a new and scary illness, patients cannot have any visitors, and their caretakers wear hoods, masks, and gowns around them. Now more than ever it is so important that we see the person in our patient and care for all their needs.
Secondly, since becoming a nurse, I have been grateful for Georgetown nursing’s promotion of attention to detail and the importance of the nursing assessment. I remember lectures from professors who told us to always trust our guts and advocate for our patients because we spend so much time with them throughout a shift (or shifts). Being a health care provider during this time where so much is new or unknown, it is so important to pay attention and speak up. Teams are working so closely to fight this, and input from nursing has been greatly valued.
Finally, during this pandemic, I am reminded of the many lessons of resilience and self-care our professors promoted. Nursing can be a taxing career; it is even more so now. I have come to understand why our professors really drilled outlets such as mindfulness, journaling, exercise, and other healthy habits. These practices have really helped me keep a routine during these weird days off where I am stuck at home, and they have helped me stay focused at work.
Question: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ridlon: I could not be more thankful for my coworkers. No matter what is thrown our way, I am so impressed with their intelligence, commitment to our patients, and how they make even the most stressful experience a positive one.