The Ursuline Charism and Mission Team create a newsletter circulated worldwide called Heartbeats which focuses on facets of St. Angela Merici’s charism and spirit. The theme for Fall 2020 is “Angela, a Woman of Faith and Hope” and is focusing on how people have kept faith and hope alive in challenging and uncertain times. For this piece, Emily Mertens ’15 and Rachel Essmyer ’14 were interviewed for their work in the healthcare profession, working with COVID and ICU patients, and keeping faith and hope alive.
As a woman of faith and hope, the words of St. Angela Merici remind us to “have hope and firm faith in God who will help you in everything.”
How has your faith carried you through these challenging and uncertain times working to help your patients?
I graduated nursing school this past December and started my nursing career a few weeks later at the start of 2020. I knew choosing ICU as my first nursing job would come with many challenges but no one could have anticipated that a global pandemic would hit just a couple of months later. I was ten weeks into my fourteen-week orientation period when I first took care of a COVID patient. He was intubated, sedated, prone and paralyzed (basically the sickest someone can possibly be). I looked around the unit that day, seeing patient after patient coming in with the same symptoms needing to be intubated and realized our lives had changed. The next day I was no longer on orientation because there were not enough ICU nurses to care for these critically ill patients. This was the first day of my nursing career all on my own. It has now been almost five months since that day and it has been a roller coaster. I have seen more loss in these past few months than I could have ever imagined but also seen success and recovery of patients that were fighting against all odds. Seeing patients succeed in the midst of all the loss gives me faith to persevere and continue caring for these patients.
For me, I have learned to totally give over all my worries and anxieties to God. I have worried about many things during this pandemic, then because of the pandemic, they don’t even happen. This trust in God has kept me grounded and it helps me take better care of myself and my residents.
Where do you find the hope to know that you can persevere and are making a difference in so many people’s lives?
Unfortunately, during this time patients’ family members cannot visit them, so many patients are spending weeks to months alone in the hospital, sometimes even passing away without their family around. This has led to many hours spent on the phone with family members explaining what is going on with patients or even making difficult life or death decisions over the phone. Even though these family members cannot be by their loved ones’ sides, they always express how thankful they are to us as we care for their family. It has taken me by surprise many times as I would not expect someone who is grieving from a distance to be so thankful towards my team and me. Hearing things like this from family members gives me peace of mind knowing I am making a difference and gives me hope to persevere.
My goal each day is to bring a smile to their faces (even under their masks). I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. When I walk into The Boulevard, it’s not about me. It’s about making their day special and that’s enough motivation for me!
Have you had a moment, which you’d like to share when you struggled to keep faith and hope alive in the face of such challenging times? What kept you focused on those days?
The very first COVID patient in my ICU was a relatively younger and healthier person, compared to the other COVID patients in the hospital. This patient came to our unit because they were requiring more and more oxygen over a very short period of time. Upon arrival to the ICU the patient was still able to walk and talk but within ten minutes of being on our unit required a ventilator. The patient had expressed how terrified they were, and feared this was the end. This is the part of COVID that is the hardest for us as healthcare workers. Patients are normally still very coherent up until we intubate them. They know their chance of survival is not great once they get to the point of needing a ventilator. They are alone and you are the only person there to comfort them and could be the last thing they remember before passing. Unfortunately for this patient, after weeks of being intubated they did not make it. This was really hard for me because this particular patient was a “healthier” person compared to some of our other patients who survived and they were so fearful moments before we intubated. We frequently questioned why this patient did not make it and sometimes still question that. I have learned to trust that sometimes you can do absolutely everything right for a patient (procedures, treatments, care, medication, etc.) and they still will not survive. Trusting that God has a plan, even if it does not make sense, is one of the only ways to make it through those tough days. Knowing you are the last person to comfort someone before they are intubated and sedated, or even being the only person with them as they pass away, is a true gift, even if it is difficult.
There was a day where a man passed away (natural causes, not COVID-related) and I just broke down. Thinking about how he had not had a hug in the past 3 months broke my heart. Family members cannot come into the community, so who knows when he last saw them. It really made me think that this virus isn’t the only danger right now, but overall isolation can have a detrimental impact on these people. Instead of focusing on that negative thought, I remembered that I am one of the people that is allowed in this building at this time and I can make a difference while I’m here.
How has your family been a source of hope for you or helped you with your faith?
After really difficult days my family is always there for me and will listen. Although they will never understand what I see and go through on a daily basis in a COVID ICU they can comfort me on the hard days and celebrate with me on the good days.
I am so blessed that I grew up in a family where everyone valued the importance of Catholic education. I was sent to Catholic preschool, grade school, and high school. My cousins, whom I am very close with, all did the same. It’s that family bond that helped me grow closer to Christ.
Is there anything that you learned at Ursuline that has been an inspiration to you in these challenging days?
Ursuline taught me the importance of Serviam and I could not think of a better way to serve the world during such an uncertain time. With faith and the support of friends and family, I have had an immeasurable amount of growth during this difficult time and learned more than I could have ever imagined about faith and hope during challenging times.
“I will serve” sticks with me each and every day. I didn’t really think about it like that until now, but that is the purpose of my life – to serve God and to serve others. In my field, I am so grateful that I can do this every single day.