AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Thursday is National Nurses Day, kicking off National Nurses Week. In 2021, the celebration comes after healthcare workers everywhere stepped up to the plate during a year of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“When it [COVID-19] hit, and when we had our first patients here, that’s when it got unbelievably real. Because we saw exactly what it did. It was for all ages, all races, it didn’t hit a certain population, it was everybody,” University Hospital nurse, Felicia Colvin said.
Colvin has been a nurse for over ten years, but she says this past year was unlike any other.
“COVID will be in history as one of the worst experiences in nursing. However, it made us stronger. it showed us that this is what we do,” Colvin said.
Colvin says wearing PPE in the COVID units meant her patients couldn’t see her smile, or hold her hand.
“You have on all this PPE, and then you finally have to enter the COVID unit, and that’s when it gets real. You see a patient, you smile, and they don’t see that smile, they just see your eyes. It’s like you have to do a lot with your voice to let them know that, hey, I’m still this upbeat nurse that’s here to take care of you,” Colvin said.
“It was that touch, and that’s what majority of my fellow coworkers found out, that not being able to see that smile or have that touch– like hold someone’s hand without wearing gloves– or having that family member be there, it took a toll,” Colvin said.
And that toll often came in the form of grief in losing patients.
“My first time getting pulled to the cohort unit, I lost a patient. That’s something that we fight. We fight when we come to work,” Colvin said.
She says during the heat of the pandemic, losing patients was a daily occurrence. The hardest part, she says, was knowing patients could not spend their final moments surrounded by loved ones.
“I’ve had someone on the phone, a family member call and say, ‘This is so evil that I can’t be with my mother at this time,’ and you take it and you just push it down because you can’t take anything personally. We do see it and it was very depressing,” Colvin said. “When you realize this person took their last breath by themselves, with you– a stranger that was trying to help fight for their lives. A whole year of that– it took a toll,” Colvin said.
Around six months into the pandemic, patients’ loved ones were able to come to the hospital during the patient’s final hours, but they could not enter the room.
“When you see it on the news and stuff, and you see family members crying, we experienced that. We did,” Colvin said. “We have to keep a straight face, but one time I wept. I wept. It was like I’ve never wept before. I was like ‘I’m sad, I’m angry'”
But Colvin says nursing never felt like a choice to her. She says it’s who she is.
“I’m naturally a nurse,” Colvin said. “I don’t see it as work or a job. It is a career, but it’s something that I love doing.”
And she says her fellow nurses not only worked harder than ever, they also supported one another more than ever.
“We talked, we visit the stairway. We’ve cried in the stairway. We go in the charge office. And we prayed. Oh my, so many times we just prayed,” Colvin said. “We just united like we have never united before. We just knew that when you stepped on the floor, you had to have each other’s back. Mentally and with physical health, but mostly emotionally and mentally.”
She says the gratitude people have shown nurses over the past year means the world to her and her fellow caretakers.
“We’re the eyes and ears when nobody else is there. We’re respected more than we have been,” Colvin said. “Just being acknowledged, and seen, and being respected for what we do, that means a lot.”