Front-Line Stories

New to Nursing but Full of Compassion, Coyote Harkins Jumps Right in to Brace for the COVID Storm

New to Nursing but Full of Compassion, Coyote Harkins Jumps Right in to Brace for the COVID Storm

Forget orientation and shadowing co-workers because Chamberlain University Bachelor of Science in Nursing alum Coyote Harkins, BSN, RN, didn’t have a moment to pause when he entered the nursing world just a short time ago. Combining his best judgment and his ability to think critically, he recalled, “I felt almost unnaturally comfortable jumping right into a flow. The voices of my amazing instructors seemed to resonate as week one felt like a baptism by fire.”

On the Sutter Amador Hospital medical-surgical floor, Coyote praised his Chamberlain instructors for not only providing accurate and realistic training but in preparing him to head feet first into this chaotic world now engulfed with COVID-19 patients. “They encouraged free thought and critical examination to ‘put our nursing caps on’ and dig deeper to understand processes, procedures and interventions wholly and not as an arbitrary set of operations,” said the self-proclaimed proud graduate about his Chamberlain Sacramento team. One of many nurses Chamberlain honors as a Portrait of Courage during this year’s National Nurses Week celebration, Coyote added, “I have felt immensely prepared to enter the workforce in these trying times and would not be without the guidance of those who embody both the science and art of nursing.”

Encouraging Words

And he offered words of advice for those still in school now—“fully grasp and consume with fervent energy, every ounce of critical-thinking skills offered by your incredible mentors on campus and at clinical. It will continue to set Chamberlain alumni apart, as an aspect of the extraordinary nurse it promises to shape.”

At first, Coyote dabbled in many fields—veterinary, education, policing, food service—and then he met his now wife who was an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse and she steered him toward nursing. “It combined all the elements I liked—education, detective work, picking apart history. I didn’t feel fulfilled at other jobs and now, I realize it was the perfect choice. I feel so at home on the job.”

Changing the Scenery

The couple met on a dating site and on a whim when Coyote was in his last year of nursing school and she was switching to day shifts, he had a wild idea—to sell all their possessions and move to northern California where they could build a tiny house. She agreed and now they are working together on their “labor of love,” 500-square-foot Earthbag home—a stable structure comprised of stacked bags of local soil, a technique developed from historic military bunker construction. They are nestled on a walnut orchard with their dogs. “It’s our little hobbit house. It’s so dense and cave-like—cool and no sound. I can sleep peacefully because compassion, fatigue and burn out is so real.”

Before becoming a nurse, Coyote admits he had a glorified sense of the job from some medical TV shows. “I had no idea all the downtime moments in between and the amount of information washing over me in waves. You can be in a room assessing and then suddenly, you’ve been in there for three hours. It’s like a time warp and the amount of energy physically, mentally and emotionally—even if you understand it objectively—doesn’t actually compute until you’re in it. It takes a lot out of you by the end of your shift.”

All Hands-On Deck

When Coyote was hired earlier this year, he envisioned the first few weeks of onboarding, cross-training and the relatively seamless transition from classroom and clinicals to on-the-floor work. And dreamt of all the ways he could become an immediate contributor to the team. Then the disease afflicting the world turned those visions into immediate reality where he had to learn on the fly and get a firsthand account of what ‘sense of urgency’ truly meant.

“I knew it was just a matter of time before we were going to get hit hard,” Coyote said of his small, community-based hospital. “But I also knew I was ready to be cut loose to provide total patient care. Either way that coin fell, there was not a lot of time to be unsure of whether I was able to do the job or not. My training made me a self-sufficient nurse and I believe a more desirable candidate at this hospital.”

When the time came for Coyote’s solo venture, his teammates helped him find the perfect personal protective equipment (PPE) to cover his beard. “I was tickled that I didn’t have to shave it off. I’m very proud of it because it took me a long time to grow. I’m transgender”—an incidental gender identity that has armed him with an extra sense of awareness when treating patients with intersectional identities. “I don’t reveal my identity but I can use it as a jumping-off point if I find someone guarded. It’s easier for me to find that connection and passion and to seek out what’s important to that person’s identity, personhood and spiritual care so I can find a source of comfort for them.”

Is it COVID?

Coyote remembers his first ‘rule-out’ patient—a person assessed for COVID—and said it was nerve-racking. She was an independent woman in her 90s with a hearing deficit who lived alone but had a close-knit family.

“The communication was not seamless and it’s terrifying for them. I come in the room with this scary-looking hazmat suit on and I’m trying to find some way to communicate. And the look on her face – she was terrified. It was very trying as a new nurse. It brought into light how important holistic care is. It’s much easier if you can bring the family into the hospital but I couldn’t so I had to use nonverbal methods and still project empathy and compassion when she could barely see my face.

“It just really hit me how terrifying it must be for all these family members to not come in and visit and here I am trying to offer comfort over the phone and I couldn’t offer much in terms of information. I realized right away that the patient is not the only one I’m taking care of but I’m also in therapeutic sessions with the family—being pragmatic and walking through all the unknowns.”

Cleared of the Disease

And then, the best ending to the story came true—Coyote’s patient came back negative for COVID. “I walked into the room smiling and she immediately started combing her hair. She did that every time I entered the room saying she didn’t want to look bad and that she hadn’t had her hair done. When I told her, she was teary-eyed and very excited to go home. It was a really sweet moment.”

Before being discharged, Coyote celebrated with his patient by taking her on a hospital adventure of the first floor—wheeling her around and stopping at every window to take in the sites.

“There’s a sense of duty that comes with the ability to give hope to patients and their families. As nurses we have a support circle—we can lean on each other and express our feelings and share in a patient’s grief but so much of the time we must put on a brave face and go through heartbreaking realizations. That’s hard to balance when talking with families and dealing with different levels of understanding, knowledge and cultural leanings, and still explain the science in a way that they will understand by giving honest answers tempered with compassion. But even if we’re not feeling or believing hopeful or we know the prognosis is poor, we as nurses have that stoicism and that quiet strength. We have to then lend them our strength—just for a little bit—so they can get through it.”

Appreciative and Thankful

We appreciate your commitment to the continued well-being of our Chamberlain community and support during this unprecedented time. Please visit the Chamberlain University website for the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

We thank and honor all healthcare workers through the Chamberlain Wall of Gratitude and thank-you message.

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