By Jill Eicher
NAMI is partnering with #FirstRespondersFirst to raise awareness about the importance of mental health in frontline health care and public safety professionals. In today's blog, nurse Jill Eicher writes about her experience with switching from pediatric nursing to volunteering to work in a COVID I.C.U.
Our frontline health workers are the first responders in the fight against the coronavirus. These health professionals will also be our guides and community allies on the road to our full recovery as a healthy nation. Thrive Global is sharing their inspiring stories.
My story is not special. My story is the same as thousands of nurses across the country. Like many others, I volunteered to work in a COVID I.C.U. I could not sit back and not do anything — most in healthcare run to help — it’s why we chose this profession.
My background is in pediatric critical care, so no adult experience, but I figured my I.C.U. background could be helpful. It was. I was quickly deployed to a hospital I had never worked in, with people I did not know, and a new patient population — 1) adults and 2) COVID patients.
It has been such a rollercoaster of emotions the past eight weeks. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that human touch is essential. I try to hold the hands of all my patients from time to time. I think how I would feel if my family member was in a hospital, unable to speak, scared and uncertain, with no loved ones there to comfort them. I would want someone to hold their hands and speak softly to them and call them by name. Treat them like a human, not a disease.
Even when on sedation medications and on the ventilator, multiple patients would squeeze my hand when I touched their hands. I would continue to talk to them and hold their hands for a while longer. These patients have no family at the bedside, so the nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists become their surrogate families. I held the hand of a man as he passed away after fighting COVID for over a month in the I.C.U. I was his family that day.
During that time, I literally had flashbacks to when my dad was passing in an I.C.U. 9 years ago. I hated that we couldn’t save that patient. I felt like I was losing my dad all over again. All patient deaths hurt, but that one cut pretty deep.
I take care of myself by spending time with my immediate family (no, I don’t quarantine from them), home improvement projects, and writing. I don’t have anyone to vent to, because I don’t want to bring the stress and sadness home, and I don’t really know anyone on the unit. So I write. I write my feelings and get it out of my head. I also pray. In the car, on the unit, over my patients.
I ask that you will continue to pray for the healthcare workers, the patients, and their families. This is not over. Love your people fiercely and be thankful for every day you have. This life is short, and delicate. Be kind, do good, and take care of one another.
I honestly feel so honored to have been able to help during this crisis. I’ve worked with and learned from some amazing nurses, respiratory therapists, and physicians. I’ve learned so much about this disease, humanity, and myself. I’ve learned that being a nurse isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.
Click here for information about how Thrive Global is supporting our healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and find out how you can support the cause by donating to #FirstRespondersFirst.
This piece originally appeared on thriveglobal.com.
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