Christie Tolbert Frontline Hero

Christie Tolbert, R.N., Southeast Georgia Health System Miriam & Hugh Nunnally Maternity Care Center. (Provided photo/Chris Moncus)

Pregnancy Doesn’t Stop for a Pandemic

It took 10 years for Christie Tolbert, R.N., to accept her calling. Fortunately, she answered the call, and for the last six years, Tolbert has worked as a labor and delivery nurse at the Southeast Georgia Health System Miriam & Hugh Nunnally Maternity Care Center.

Nursing was not her first career choice. Tolbert aspired to be a veterinarian, and she disregarded all the people who kept telling her she would make a great nurse. After earning her biology degree, she applied for veterinary school. “After three failed attempts, I felt lost and had no idea what to do with my life. The pull towards nursing got stronger and the doors for nursing school kept opening. Here I am, six years later and I absolutely love what I do!” Tolbert says. Though originally reluctant to enter the field, Tolbert now holds two nursing degrees; a Bachelor of Science from Valdosta State University and a Master of Science from South University.

As patients arrive at the Maternity Care Center, Tolbert and her co-workers prioritize them for the labor and delivery or surgery areas. Tolbert monitors mothers during their labor progress and coaches them through childbirth. Her favorite moment happens when a newborn arrives. “I look at Mom and Dad’s (or the support person’s) faces to see their expressions as they see their baby for the first time! It’s such a special moment!” Tolbert says. Her job doesn’t end once the baby is born. She works with families for two to three days, providing “as much education as Mom and Dad’s tired minds can hold.” She also cares for women after gynecological surgery to ensure proper rest and recovery.

Team Players

Tolbert collaborates with a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, surgical technicians, unit clerks and cleaning staff. “I like knowing that every time I clock in, I have a team that has my back. We work together to make the events of each day flow. We will never let each other fall.”

Tolbert encourages anyone interested in nursing to “Go into this profession with an open mind and teachable heart. There is something to learn every day, whether you have been a nurse for one year or 30. Remember that every patient is somebody’s grandparent, mother, father, child or sibling. Treat them like they are your own family.”

A Range of Emotions

Caring for women during their most vulnerable moments is a humbling experience. “I have laughed, cried and prayed with patients. I always appreciate when a doctor or my nurse manager tells me that a patient was grateful for my care. I feel that every patient has had some impact on me.”

Nurse Manager Kim Buckley, R.N., sees Tolbert’s impact firsthand. “She is compassionate in meeting the specific needs of patients. She readily assists with patients with COVID-19 and has volunteered for extra shifts to help out with our increased staffing needs.”

Finding a Balance

Tolbert describes the challenge of caring for pregnant women infected with COVID-19. “Besides the mental, emotional and physical fatigue, it’s hard finding a balance between taking precautions and making sure your patient receives the same care as women who do not have COVID-19. As health care professionals, we get so caught up in following the rules, we sometimes forget our patient may be a first-time mom who is nervous or is about to have her first C-section. Having a baby without COVID is life-changing and can be scary; we give special attention to making it a positive experience, with or without COVID.”

Like other areas of the hospital, her workplace looks different today than earlier this year. Tolbert wistfully remembers when the waiting areas and patient rooms were filled with patients’ family and friends. “They used to line the wall to the (birthing) room with their ears pressed to the wall so they could hear the baby’s first cry. Since COVID-19 hit, we limit patients to a single support person. Some days seem bleak; the pandemic really gets to you, but it makes me smile when I see a family outside, peeking through the window to see their newest little family member.”

A Different Lens

Tolbert also feels the pandemic’s effect on her personal life. She’s diligent about protecting her children from the virus and misses spending time with family and friends and the simple pleasure of receiving “a smile from strangers.” No one in her family has become sick, but she has co-workers who the virus has affected in one way or another. “That gave me a new perspective on life and how quickly lives can be changed,” she says.

Finding Gratitude

Everyone appreciates praise for a job well done, especially those working on the frontlines of health care. “I would like to thank our community for the meals and sweet sidewalk messages we see as we walk out to our cars, and the love, support and encouragement. Every thought, prayer and gift is appreciated,” Tolbert says.

If there’s one thing Tolbert understands after six years of bringing new life into the world, it’s that negativity has no place in the birthing room. No matter how long the labor, she must remain optimistic and encourage the mothers. The coronavirus will not dim her resolve. “Eventually, we will come out of this pandemic and return to some sense of normalcy. Until then, let’s all do our part to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy. These are hard and uncertain times, but we are going to keep working hard for our community.”

To support your community hospital during this difficult time, call Southeast Georgia Health System Foundation at 912-466-3360.

Today’s Frontline Heroes is sponsored by Southeast Georgia Health System. Visit their website at sghs.org.

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