These stories are difficult to hear. They come from UVA Health staff who care for our community’s sickest COVID-19 patients – our parents, relatives, friends, neighbors. They do all they can to save lives, and for some, are there during their last hours.
Weary and emotionally scarred, these nurses and nurse assistants are forever changed, but hopeful. And like heroes on the battlefield, they have a profound sense of camaraderie.
As part of their healing, these UVA Health caregivers want to share their stories. Here is the last of a five-part series of firsthand accounts.
Sarah Kaplan, Nurse, Medical Intensive Care Unit
June 1 was my 30th anniversary as a nurse at UVA. When COVID hit, we ran to the fire. We weren’t asked. We ran to the fire because it was dropped on our laps. Here we were, unvaccinated, and we started to take care of these patients. And we did it excellently.
We realized when COVID hit that we didn’t exactly know how to go in and out of the patient rooms. How to put PPE (personal protective equipment) on safely and how to take it off safely. And our team, along with infection prevention control and our quality people, are the ones who figured that out.
We identified, for example, “Oh shoot, there’s an X-ray machine in the room now. How can we safely get it out without infecting other patients?” From the very second COVID came to UVA, and it came to our medical intensive care unit, our team was the one who figured out all the different things.
Every day we were learning something new. Every single day, something would change in the afternoon from what we were doing in the morning. It has been exhausting. It was oddly scary and terrifying, but kind of exhilarating in the beginning. Here we are in this situation that we’ve never been in before. So here we go. We got this.
“We’ve all been traumatized. I think we are all stronger than we ever thought we could ever be.”
- Sarah Kaplan
UVA Health medical intensive care unit nurse
Then we were like, “Oh shoot, we could take this home to our people.” That’s something that we lived with continually. It’s a whole lot different now that we’re vaccinated.
I was charge nurse the day we were at 25 critically ill patients, and our unit was so big that we ended up having two charge nurses. That was one of my most stressful days in all of my 30-year career at UVA. Because our goal is to provide quality care, always. But goodness.
I just had a family member of a recent COVID ICU patient say that COVID wasn’t real. It’s kind of maddening, actually. We’ve risked our lives and witnessed death firsthand more times than we’d love to forget.
We’ve all had losses through the past year. Ashley’s story with her grandmother just wrenches my heart. My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, and I lost him 11 days after he was diagnosed. It’s been a tough year for all of us.
We’ve all been traumatized. I think we are all stronger than we ever thought we could ever be. I would not have wanted to go through this with anyone else in the entire world.
I’m a woman of great faith. So I relied on my Christian faith and it is the grace of God that has gotten me through. But additionally, I felt support from my team every single day. Our managerial team – Kris Blackstone, Rick Carpenter and Sharon Bragg – have been amazing. They’ve supported us. They’ve listened to us.
Our team was walking through this mud together, and quicksand some days, but we always knew that we each have each other’s back.