Nurses are facing unprecedented challenges right now as they face the COVID-19 pandemic. With these realities in mind, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Nursing (CON) has launched a forum for alumni who are on the front lines of this pandemic to share their stories.
Kimberly Harvey is a 2015 CON graduate. Kimberly works at Tristar Centennial Medical Center as an ICU RN. Kimberly is also on the Rapid Response team, and is an ECMO specialist. Kimberly’s ICU unit became a designated COVID ICU in March. Since then Kimberly has had to serve not only as a nurse but as a caretaker and support system for those whose families could not be with them during this crisis.
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
After five years providing care to med-surg and cardiovascular ICU patients, there is a delicate dissociation at the end of each shift that one must learn to help prevent nurse burnout. It sounds calloused, but I could not go to work every day for the last five years and feel the full gamut of emotions and effectively do my job. For the most part, I learned how to leave my shift at the door for my own mental health. Until now. COVID19 has annihilated that coping skill. My MSICU unit became the designated COVID ICU at Centennial Medical Center here in the heart of Nashville on March 16, 2020 when our first positive patient was admitted on the ventilator. From that moment, the admissions arrived more and more ill. We went from one patient, to five, to fifteen in no time. Of those fifteen at a given moment, twelve were on ventilators, six paralyzed, four proned, & three on ECMO [one VA & two VV]. Every single patient on vasoactive drips and essential sedation. Patients were no longer referenced by room number but by first names, because the average length of patient stay increased from three days in our ICU to 3-5 weeks.
PPE conservation began escalating every shift, and care guidelines changed every huddle as we learned more and more about this virus. But the real gut-punch lies in nothing I’ve just described above. By the end of March, visitation at our hospital was discontinued until further notice for patient and visitor safety. Suddenly, these critically ill, previously healthy, thirty to sixty year olds were left solely in our care. All of the sudden, we became these patients’ everything – their support system, their reassurance, their champions, their cheerleaders, their therapists, and their caretakers – all at once. My teammates and I have virtually talked their loved ones off the ledge. We have held the hands of our community’s husbands, wives, & children when all they could do was whisper “I love you” through the phone. We have sang “Happy Birthday” through glass doors one day, and the next we held the hands of others who peacefully slipped away as they lost their battle with COVID19. No matter your years of experience, you can’t leave a COVID shift at the door when you clock out. Every shift is a rollercoaster of small victories and large setbacks, and my MSICU nurses have felt every single one. The last six weeks have been emotional and intense. We give little pieces of our hearts to each of these patient-warriors, and they to us. That demands to be felt.
With all of that said, our story must end on a positive note. Team MSICU’s very first COVID+ patient was discharged last Friday after winning their five-week battle. There was music and banners, cheering and oh so much love as over fifty MSICU healthcare teammates lined up to show their support for this champion. That’s one big point for the good guys, Corona. And you better believe there’ll be more where that came from.
Share your advice
Get together with your work family outside of work. Make dinner, help a colleague set up Hinge, watch a rom com, laugh, and let it out. No one else will know your struggle like your teammates. There is a catharsis in your colleague’s empathy and understanding. It’s a weight your significant other or best friend cannot carry for you. That’s why we have our work families.
What can the college do to help support you during this time?
Share the love. Share our stories. Stay home, stay safe. Wash your hands and clothes, and love your loved ones. Hard.
If you are interested in sharing your story please visit http://tiny.utk.edu/alumnistories.