Southeast Georgia Health System CCU team members (l-r), Lucy Flake, R.N.; Michele Hooks, unit coordinator; Christy Owens, R.N. and Blake Wright, BSN, R.N.

Providing Compassion at a Critical Time

Some people might say that nurses like Christy Owens, R.N. and Blake Wright, BSN, R.N., along with all of their co-workers, go where angels fear to tread. Then again, most people do not see COVID-19 up close and personal, day in and day out. As nurses working with critically ill patients in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) of the Southeast Georgia Health System Brunswick Campus, they care for people at their most vulnerable.

“CCU patients are extremely scared. My goals are to treat them with kindness and respect, to listen to them and to make them feel safe,” says Owens.

Unlike Any Other Profession

Though many people might not choose to work in a hospital during a pandemic, the CCU staff is in their element. Like others who enter this profession, Owens and Wright found their calling early in life. Owens always wanted to be a nurse and though it took several years before she was able to attend nursing school, once she did, “I dove right in and never looked back.” Wright was inspired by the nurses who cared for his grandfather as he battled cancer. “I visited him in the hospital and found the role of the nurse to be really special,” he says.

Even as the nurses acknowledge the job’s mental and physical challenges, they find it rewarding. “The satisfaction and pride you feel helping those in need is unlike any other profession,” Owens says. Making a difference in the lives of others keeps Wright coming back every day. “Helping patients work through tough times is so rewarding. I also love when patients return to visit the unit and thank us with a huge smile!”

A Bedside Vigil

The CCU team is often at the bedside during a patient’s final hours. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, a nurse may be the last person the patient sees before they pass. In those moments, Owens treats patients the way she would want her family or friends treated. Wright describes that the bond between the nurse, patient and family is never stronger than during a bedside vigil. “Patients’ families often say they feel as though I am part of their family because of the constant communication I have with them as their loved one battles a serious illness.” He says this is especially true when a patient makes a turnaround after escaping death. “The families share how thankful they are for what we have done and how my co-workers and I have been at the bedside.”

Owens is similarly touched by the gratitude families express, even in difficult times. She recalls a particularly poignant encounter. “This family’s loved one was dying and all they could do was thank me. I didn’t understand why they thanked me. Their son, father, husband, was not coming home. Through experience, I realized that nursing isn’t all about healing. Showing compassion and ensuring comfort and ease through the dying process is just as important.”

Fighting COVID as a Family

Like other frontline heroes, the CCU team says that 2020 was the hardest year of their career. The support of their co-workers made all the difference. “I love everyone I work with. Every single one of us will jump in at any given time to help one another,” Owens says. Wright echoes the feelings of other Health System employees when he says, “My work family is special. We are a unit, team and family, all with the common goal of providing the best possible care. The nursing staff and physicians, along with our non-clinical departments make this Health System a great place to work because they are all outstanding co-workers.”

Their supervisor agrees, while expressing special appreciation for her nurses. “The entire CCU team has worked above and beyond the call of duty during this time,” says Jan Jones, R.N., BSN, director of Patient Care Services.

Caring for critically ill patients during a pandemic requires extraordinary effort. “Our unit transformed into the COVID-19 intensive care unit. Workdays have been a lot more taxing on the body and mind, as many people fall extremely ill from the virus and fight for their life,” Wright says. Each nurse wears Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) throughout their 12-hour shift. To minimize exposure, the team tries to get as much done as possible while inside the rooms designated for patients with COVID-19. “I make a list of supplies and medications I may need and take everything into the room at one time,” Owens says.

When the Health System suspended visitation to protect families from the highly contagious virus, the nurses found a workaround. They make FaceTime calls between patients and families to comfort them.

Seeing the Good

Being in direct contact with COVID patients, the CCU nurses take extra precautions to keep their families safe. “I have not had the chance to see a lot of my family because I don’t want to place them at risk. We wear a bunch of PPE, but it is still a risk I don’t want to take,” Wright says. Owens found a silver lining in the midst of the pandemic. “It forced me to slow down. My kids and I do lots of bike rides, walks, board games and just talking. Every day, I try to see the good in this world.”

Despite facing the 21st century’s biggest test to date, the CCU team knows they are helping America move through a historical crisis. From their vantage point on the frontlines of coronavirus care, they urge the public to take the virus seriously. Despite our fatigue, Wright says we must continue to follow the CDC guidelines, “Or this virus will devastate communities.”

We are all weary of masks, handwashing, social distancing, shutdowns and quarantines, but as Owens says, “We don’t like it either, but it’s a matter of life or death. Just do the right thing. We love and care about every one of you!”

If you are a nurse who would like to join our team, please call 912-466-3115 or email nurserecruiter@sghs.org

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

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