In the midst of chaos, you reach for that point of stability. Sometimes it’s an image of calm from your childhood or favorite vacation, sometimes it is a wall to lean on and take a deep breath, and sometimes it is a person you can count on. In healthcare today, during the greatest crisis most of us will witness in our lifetime, it’s more often than not a nurse.
It’s May and many people feel like we have been living this “new normal” for months. May is also Nurse Appreciation Month – an apropos time to recognize our collective stability in the midst of today’s chaos, reflecting on how they came to be at the center of it all.
Melanie Jorgensen wanted to be a nurse for as long as she can remember. Her mother, a nurse educator retired from a storied career after 45 years. “One of my most favorite memories is of my mom, a single mom getting up early in the mornings to go teach her clinicals. And at that time, she would put on her white pressed nursing uniform. The night before was this big production where she would pick out her shoes – the really ugly, comfortable nursing shoes – get the shoe polish, clip her nails, put on clear fingernail polish. It was this whole thing that we knew meant mom was going to kiss us goodbye really early in the morning, when it was still dark outside, to go to the hospital and teach her students. I remember just this vision of my mother being this angel and thinking I want to be just like that when I grow up.”
Melanie realized that 25 years ago when she became a Registered Nurse. She spent nearly 18 years as a critical care nurse before transitioning to specialize in Patient Blood Management. Starting as a Transfusion Safety Officer with a local blood supplier, Melanie became the teacher – just like her mom. She was now the educator responsible for ensuring other nurses knew what equipment to use and how to transfuse safely. Today Melanie continues to teach others in a larger capacity, partnering with hospitals across the country using evidence-based practice and technology as a platform for managing outcomes and changing behaviors. While no longer at the bedside, Melanie salutes and support the nurses working tirelessly today, recalling a skill that helped her navigate chaos.
In a time of stress and crisis, I always try to focus on staying calm because anxiety just produces more anxiety. In a life or death situation, it was my job to stay calm, focus on what needed to be done so that everyone else stayed calm. Triage is essential in order to keep everyone safe. So, my focus in this time of COVID has been: how do we take care of our essential workers so that they can continue to do the essential things they need to do to be safe and to keep others safe?
Nicole DeVita did not take the typical path, if there is one, to becoming a nurse. She never thought about being a nurse, nor thought that is where her future would lead her. In fact, just the opposite. Nicole had an episode when she was very young that landed her in the hospital for an extended period of time. After that, even entering a hospital building made her physically sick. Years later however, her high school required community service and she was forced back into the hospital setting.
That was when Nicole’s vision for what came next took an unexpected turn. A family friend knew the volunteers at one of the hospitals and decided to help. He said: You’ve seen the bad things that happen in the hospital. Now I think you need to see the good things that happen there too. “He worked with the volunteer department and got me a slot in the newborn nursery – and it changed my life.” From that point on Nicole was focused on becoming a nurse, I became passionate about education and eventually the science of transfusion medicine.
Originally from New York, Nicole is personally surrounded and impacted by todays’ environment. You know pandemics can exist, but you don’t expect them to happen in your lifetime. I was a new nurse in New York city when 9-11 came. Our hospitals in particular went on the offense after that, doing drills and training to really prioritize patients and stay calm, think clearly. However, the best laid plans do not always go that way, so you have to be prepared to work outside of the box. I think the very key thing to remember (in medicine) is that we can have wonderful plans and resources available but, at any moment in medicine, things can change and we need to be able to recalculate, reorganize and just do whatever it is we need to do to take care of patients. I think that honestly, that experience that I went through, being a nurse at that time in New York City, gave me those skills.
Nicole and Melanie have had two completely different career paths, but both have had the same common goal: support the nurses who are on the frontline of the COVID pandemic. We appreciate their dedicated efforts to profoundly impacting healthcare both during their time at the bedside and now educating nurses and physicians around best blood management practices.