Front-Line Stories

We are Like a Family in the ICU and we will Get Through This: Nurse on the Front Line of COVID-19

We are Like a Family in the ICU and we will Get Through This: Nurse on the Front Line of COVID-19

Kara Gates, RN, is on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. A registered nurse in the intensive care unit of Glens Falls Hospital in upstate New York, she has been working almost 15-hour shifts, from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., in a state that is one of the hardest hit by the novel coronavirus. With New York City now an epicenter of the disease, her 391-bed community hospital and others in the area are bracing for a wave of patients over the next months.

“The anticipation of how bad it is going to get is the scariest part,” said Gates, a student in the RN to BSN Online Option at Chamberlain. “When I’m at work I’m in the thick of it. But it’s worse when I come home and turn on the news and the media keeps warning of a catastrophe. At least at work, I’m helping.”

At the start of a “normal” week, Gates would be caring for critically ill patients in the ICU. But this week, the 35-year-old will hit the ground running at 6 a.m. Monday, manning the hospital’s expanded intensive care unit as the hospital braces for what is expected to be a harrowing period.

Already, her unit is treating patients who are positive and others awaiting results. As of Sunday, April 5, two healthcare workers have also been diagnosed with COVID-19. With all elective surgeries that can be safely postponed on hold and medical clinics operating via telehealth, nurses from some additional departments are being cross-trained to care for critically ill patients and monitoring their conditions for COVID-19. That includes Gates’ twin sister, Karla Bombard, who normally assists with procedures in the Gastrointestinal Laboratory.

“We’re told to treat anyone who is undergoing an aerosol-generating procedure as if they have COVID-19, and most of our patients fall into that category,” she says.

With a husband who works in the paper industry, considered essential because the paper is used for prescriptions, Gates is also taking great precautions at home.

“It’s always on your mind,” says Gates, who has been a nurse for nine years. After her shifts, she discards her scrubs and gear and showers immediately.

The silver lining has been the texts and messages she gets from friends and family members who are concerned about her welfare and busy at home making face masks.

She said the hospital has been flooded with an outpouring of support from community members who drop off pizzas and food several times a week.

She recently expressed her gratitude for the community in a Facebook post, adding: “Thank you to the families in compliance at this time. Thank you to those that choose to stay HOME. You are the true heroes that will help to flatten the curve. ??❤️ This community is truly the best and I know we can get through this and come out on top! Continue to stay strong and stay home so we don’t have to subject our families to the intense amount of heartache other communities are currently struggling with.”

On Monday, April 6, she and her coworkers are staging a rainbow party, decorating their unit and bringing in rainbow-colored foods to brighten up the mood.

“We are like a family in the ICU and we will get through this,” she said. “This is my job. This is what I do and that hasn’t changed at all. We are just going to keep doing what we do. In the meantime, we need to take care of our patients, and it is important for us nurses to take care of ourselves.”

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