Mary Beth Coyle, RN

I have been a nurse for over 36 years and never have I experienced anything like this. I’ve been stuck at the hospital for days for blizzards and other disasters, but those were time-limited. This just keeps going on.

My day-to-day job has changed dramatically. I was a surgical nurse and now my floor has become a COVID unit, which involves caring for COVID patients with multiple medical problems. It is difficult to put on the PPE and wear it in the room while caring for these patients.

As a veteran nurse I see the young nurses – some not even out a year – and I look at them as their careers are beginning and wonder what they think of this profession they got into?

I am coping because I am a nurse. Bottom line is, my patients need to be cared for no matter what their diagnosis. I know they have no family in attendance so I make every effort to communicate with families. I often make phone calls on speaker phone so the families can talk with their family members. This is especially important for the elderly and confused patients who are unable to use phones themselves.

"You realize how important it is, what we do every day."

I am also motivated because I am a nurse. Being on the frontline is scary but when you gear up and go in a room you realize the patients need us so much. It is a day-to-day struggle.

I have to acknowledge every one of my coworkers who come to work every day with a positive, upbeat attitude. Their professionalism and the caring they provide every day is inspiring to me, I am proud to be part of such a team. I have been blessed with texts, cards and emails from many of our long-term patients who have reached out, sending prayers and support. You realize how important it is, what we do every day.”

Ava Reyna-Balsamo, RN

“I’m a nurse coordinator in the Aerodigestive Clinic. My day-to-day job has changed in that we are no longer seeing patients in the clinic. Everything is being done over the phone or by MyChart Video Visits. This is actually an exciting time, as I get to do something new with technology. Nothing is the same and it seems that there are changes every five minutes.

"I feel confident that we will get through this!"

What motivates me is knowing that patients’ families are looking to nurses for help/answers/ways to cope and answer their questions in this scary ‘new normal.’

I have never experienced anything like this in my career, and I’ve been a nurse for 32 years. But I feel confident that we will get through this!”

Shalonda Sahara Willocks, RN

“I graduated just a few months ago from an accelerated BSN program. While my skills are new, I knew we would thrive together to tackle COVID. Sometimes that’s how life is: There’s affliction and we come together. Instead of saying, ‘How can I get out of this?’ I started saying, ‘What can I get out of this?’ This trial is not about what we aren’t – it’s about what we are becoming together.

COVID has brought a chance to refine our vision of healthcare and restructure nurses into embracing new territories. I was asked to join the SICU as the surge in COVID cases strained the ICU. There was never a moment I thought, ‘I’m not formally trained;’ instead I showed up, said ‘yes,’ made myself available and gave what I had. Together with the trained ICU staff, we all make an unbeatable team.

We are all growing through this – growing our patience, growing our clinical skills. Not all the feelings are great – some are lukewarm and there are many uncertainties. But in the moments when we were lost we found an overflow of generous hearts, leaders of every style and diligent healthcare workers mustering through the tensions of COVID and watching transformations and lives saved before our eyes.

"This trial is not about what we aren’t – it’s about what we are becoming together."

During this increasingly challenging period, the mission was and will always be focused on the patients. While the treatment plans are more complex, the environment of healing and recovery and addressing/assessing the comfort of our patients are our priorities. Although our PPE hides our outside appearance, we are nearer to our patients now. We are their support system in the absence of family and advocates at their bedside. Upon entering a room, I show the patient my badge so they may have a moment of connection and sense of who I am.

I get to start my nursing career off in a pandemic. My dream hasn’t changed. I’m a nurse.

Several years from now what will we remember about these days? I, for one, will remember the determination of this organization and the world. While I may not remember every complex emotion that was evoked in me, I will hold on to the camaraderie during these trials, and the presence of hope, bravery and coworkers who offered support during these troubled times and uncertain moments.”

Jodi Walters, RN

“It’s been quite a profound experience for me. You hear in the news how tough things are for the nurses, but once you go in and you actually work in one of the designated COVID-19 units, you really get a feel for just how amazing these nurses are. I can’t say enough positive things about the nursing staff at Greenwich Hospital. I think they’ve done a tremendous job of handling this situation.

As someone coming in from the outside offering a helping hand, I was consistently greeted with “Thank you for being here.” They were very grateful for the extra help. Anything that I needed, from trying to find supplies, updating my knowledge base, or requesting assistance, there was always somebody willing to stop what they were doing and lend a hand. I just can’t say enough positive things about the entire team of people working in the ICU and Telemetry/Intermediate Care units at Greenwich Hospital, both staff and travel nurses. Even with the pressure and demands created by this situation, they were unwavering in their dedication to provide the best care possible.

"I can’t say enough positive things about the nursing staff at Greenwich Hospital. I think they’ve done a tremendous job of handling this situation. "

For me it was quite an experience. I do want to share one quick story. I had a patient who was an elderly woman. I think she was in her late seventies or early eighties. Her hands were crippled with arthritis and when I went into the room to get her vital signs and assist her with feeding she said to me “There’s only one thing I want. I want to place a phone call to my niece.” It had been a week since she had spoken to any of her family members and unfortunately she couldn’t remember her niece’s phone number, only the town she lived in. The staff and I looked up the number, and I went back into the room and placed the call for her. All I can tell you is that she wept when she heard her niece’s voice. She wept because, up to that point, she hadn’t been able to do the one thing that was most important to her. She hadn’t had an opportunity to speak with her family.

I just realized that sometimes the small things that we can do, really have a tremendous impact on the patient. That was something that was very moving for me. When I saw her weep, just the fact that I was in the position where I was able to take the time and make that call, meant everything to her. So maybe moving forward in the future, I’m thinking that this is something we can take a look at. I was thinking it would be nice to have iPads, or some other form of technology, that we could put into a disposable plastic covering and we could bring it into the patient’s room so they could FaceTime or Skype with their family members.

The last thing I’d like to add, is that wearing the PPE day in and day out must be very draining for these nurses, especially those who have worked four straight 12 hour shifts. I know it took me time to adjust to wearing an N95 mask and a face shield for long periods of time. It also required additional focus donning and doffing this equipment. For them to do this day in and day out, it’s a different type of nursing. Again, I’m just so impressed by how supportive the nurses were to one another at Greenwich Hospital. Without hesitation, I’d sign up again.

Rita Amendola, APRN

“When it first came out that clinicians were needed in the hospital, I just felt like I had to go. It’s really hart to articulate, but it was just something I felt inside that I just had to do.

But I was so, so nervous. After having worked in primary care for the last five years, this was really out of my comfort zone. But after several pep talks from other people and right to myself, I walked right up to the doors at Bridgeport Hospital, and I was welcomed with so much warmth and gratitude from the Hospitalist group, that I knew I had made the right choice.

When I started working there, I was taking care of mostly COVID positive patients, and there was a wide range of severity of illness. I don’t think I will ever, ever forget just how raw and real it was to hold the hand of a woman in her late 80s towards the very end of her life and feel just how cold it was even beneath my gloves.

"It’s really hard to put this whole experience into words, but I know it made me a better clinician and I will forever feel just a deep sense of community within our entire system."

But also how truly rewarding it was even while wearing all of my PPE, face shield included, to be able to just pull up a chair and sit next to a man in his 50s in his hospital bed and speak with him and his family member via FaceTime and be able to accurately explain his plan of care.

It’s really hard to put this whole experience into words, but I know it made me a better clinician and I will forever feel just a deep sense of community within our entire system.”

Steven Benaderet, MD

“I felt like I had to come to Bridgeport Hospital to help during the COVID-19 crisis. My head job is regional medical director of Northeast Medical Group, and that’s important work. But I felt I needed to be here, and I’m really glad I came.

The night before I came to Bridgeport Hospital, I felt like I was an intern who drew the short stick for July 4th weekend. I was as nervous as everybody else. I haven’t worked in a hospital setting in 12 years. Half the people I worked with I trained. I was their attending, they were residents, so they’re all 10 years, 15 years younger than me.

Apple tells me that my steps have increased to about 12,000 steps a day, which is impressive. The community has been amazing. Even with all those steps I still gained weight because every day the community supports us by sending us food and well wishes. I walked out of the hospital and chalked on the sidewalks are “You’re a hero,” “Stop and take a breath,” “We love you,” “We support you,” we are very fortunate.

"Whatever your job is, you’ve done an amazing thing, and really, you always have and you always will, and we appreciate you."

I would also like to just echo that as nervous as I was it took me five minutes of being in this hospital to realize that the staff was so grateful and appreciative of the support. They work cooperatively, they work collaboratively, they work in unison, they speak the same language, and they’re nimble. I was lost trying to get to the emergency room and I had someone who is part of the maintenance team walk me to the emergency room. He said “You look like you’re looking for something.” He stopped what he was doing and walked me to where I needed to go because I hadn’t been there before and I got lost. The number of times someone just realigned me and said “Nope, you need to be going that way, not this way,” was great. So, it doesn’t matter what your job is here, these people are amazing, and by the way, they’ve been here forever, and long after COVID is gone, they will be here, and they will be here to support your patients when they leave your care in the outpatient setting and we’re lucky to have them as the true front line.

I was the pinch hitter, that’s it, and I’m grateful to have been here. I had some of those harrowing experiences in holding patients’ hands and making Facetime calls and I’m better for it. And that’s some of those unintended consequences of COVID. We can go over all of the horrible parts of it, but some of the unintended consequences have been amazing. So I really wanted to throw my hat in for everyone here at this hospital. Whatever your job is, you’ve done an amazing thing, and really, you always have and you always will, and we appreciate you. I would encourage anyone to consider volunteering to help out. Hopefully, there is no other surge and there’s no other bounce again, but don’t be afraid. The support here is fantastic. You are not alone.”