These stories are difficult to hear. They come from UVA Health staff who are caring for our community’s sickest COVID-19 patients – our parents, relatives, friends, neighbors. They do all they can to save lives, and for some, have been 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 fourth of a five-part series of firsthand accounts.
Roman Abdul Satar, Patient Care Technician, Medical Intensive Care Unit
I started working as a patient care technician (also known as a clinical nurse assistant, or CNA) in the UVA Medical Intensive Care Unit in August 2019. It was my first experience in a hospital setting.
As a PCT, we take vital signs, help the nurse position and turn patients, and ensure comfort for our patients. We are also responsible for keeping the unit clean and organizing all the supplies and help the health unit coordinator welcome visitors and perform administrative duties.
That was our routine before COVID.
A Hopeless Situation
Due to the short supply of PPE, we were unable to perform what we were used to and our nurses would do most of the patient care. I felt helpless for not being there for them, as much as I wanted to. Later, when we were comfortable with having enough PPE, it was a relief to interact with our patients and help them be comfortable.
At the MICU, we always cared for the sickest population and witnessed death. However, during the pandemic, before the vaccine, we saw more death than I had ever seen in the past. It was emotionally draining to feel so helpless against the virus and not be able to save patients after having done everything we could.
I was lucky to be part of a team that cared for each other and shared our feelings. There was always a friendly ear that could listen to the pressure we felt that specific day.
Keeping My Family Safe
Due to the ambiguity of the virus and the lack of treatment, many were scared to work with the infected population and rightly so. Many of us lived with family members who were especially vulnerable to COVID-19, including myself. My family was concerned for me to be at work every day. I was terrified of taking the virus back home to my parents.
Every day after work, I would take all the precautions I could and sanitize everything I was taking home. I completely isolated myself from family by using a different entrance to the house and staying in our basement for the longest time. I would FaceTime my parents while I was 15 feet away from them. I had a mini fridge from my college days and I’d have my meals downstairs on my own and wouldn’t go upstairs at all. Mentally, it made me feel better that I was doing everything I could to protect them. However, there were many days when I desperately wanted to hug my parents and seek support and couldn’t. It is still surreal to think back on all the things we did and how things luckily changed.
Thankfully, none of us got sick. We are all vaccinated now and it takes some of the pressure off. They’re proud of me now. They told me that they didn’t know if I was brave or foolish or stubborn, but are happy that I kept caring for our patients and stayed safe.
Supporting Each Other
During the hardest months of the pandemic, I relied on my team. My coworkers became my close friends and family. When I’d come to work, I’d see how we all pitched in and did our part. It brought us even closer as a team
Some of my coworkers came up with a mindfulness program where we could try to think about other positive things and get our minds out of the COVID land. We were surrounded by it 24/7 and that was all we thought about.
Earning a Master’s in Nursing
When I started working in the MICU in August 2019, it confirmed my passion for critical care. I applied in winter of 2019, before the pandemic, to the UVA clinical nurse leader program. It’s a 2-year accelerated graduate program to earn my Master’s in Nursing.
I started the Master’s program in the summer of 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic. It was a lot to work and go to class but it helped that the program was mostly through Zoom. I have my bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and thought I would spend my career doing lab research. I realized my passion was to care for those in a critical condition.
My experience with COVID made me think of nursing as a lifetime career for me. I saw so many courageous nurses during the pandemic and how much work they put in. I’m excited to graduate and be in this field with so many very impressive nurses.
Read more about others’ experiences on the COVID unit, including a nurse who lost her grandmother to COVID-19, excerpts from one nurse’s pandemic journal, and a nurse who began her career in February 2020, right before the pandemic hit.