On the Front Lines of COVID‑19 Colby-Sawyer Healthcare Alumni Answer the Call Amid Pandemic
by Gregg Mazzola Dec. 8, 2020
Healthcare workers in general, and nurses in particular, have long been associated with a chaotic and frenetic work environment. Stress is part of the job and coping is a required skill. Perhaps those traits have never been tested more than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Front-line workers have become today’s heroes cloaked in scrubs. Colby-Sawyer College healthcare alumni are making their mark around the region, playing caretaker, friend, support staff and provider to patients desperately in need of care and attention at a time when their health is also at risk.
Kim Fish Rumrill ’84
Genomic Technologist Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
“We now have to wear masks all day at work from the minute we step into the building until we leave at night. Analysts working directly with the COVID samples wear hospital scrubs that they can change out of before they go home, and everyone leaves a pair of shoes at work so that the virus doesn’t get tracked home.
“Getting out a large number of samples when needed is really important. We are currently pushing out 96 samples each hour and we do four runs a day. Being able to get large results in 24 hours is critical to our effort. People [need to] find out much sooner if they have the virus because they might be pregnant or are waiting on surgeries. That makes me feel good that we can get answers sooner to help them make important decisions.”
“I am working as an ER nurse in Massachusetts. I graduated from the Colby-Sawyer nursing program in 1987. This is certainly the strangest and most stressful time in my 32 years as a nurse. The men and women I work with are fighting the good fight every day, though we all hope things can get back to somewhat normal soon.
“I think the most inspiring moment so far was on April 29 when we discharged a patient who had COVID-19. To see people who are really sick, and then we get to send them home, feels really rewarding.
“I cared for a woman in her 60s who tested negative but was treated as though she had COVID. She was intubated the next day and then she ended up on a respirator for 2 1/2 weeks, which is a long time. Since then, she was sent to a rehab facility and she continues to do well. That was a good ending.
“I love to see it when people pay attention to medical advice and wear their gloves and face masks. It’s really discouraging when people aren’t paying attention, for me as a nurse. It puts me and the people around us in danger.”
Kristen Orvis Salter ’95
Health Services Administrator Vergennes Residential Care
“What I’m most proud of is when I get a thank you from a family member after telling them of monthly updates and notifications. I’ll provide an update on their loved ones and their activities. We try extremely hard to keep the normalcy in the building. I love it when I can bring a resident to the porch so they can wave to their loved ones.
“We had admitted a new resident and her granddaughter had brought her over from a nursing home to our assisted living facility. I saw them across the street sitting in the park and having lunch. I went over to bring them to our facility. The granddaughter told me that she had not seen her grandmother in over four months, so I told them to take their time. These are people, as they get older, their family may never see again. The granddaughter said they had such a narrow window of opportunity to spend time with her. I had tears in my eyes. I wanted to give them the time they needed.”
Ashley Mikkila ’18
Population Health Coordinator Reliant Medical Group
“I’ve been working on the front lines with COVID-19 patients. We have testing set up for patients with respiratory issues, such as difficulty breathing. I find my work really rewarding because these patients don’t always have someone to talk to and the support we provide can make their lives a lot less stressful.
“We had one gentleman in his 40s who came with severe back problems and because of COVID-19, his surgery was postponed. We were able to set up future video appointments with him. This was a man who was living alone and not working. Knowing that I could help him get on track and be a lot less stressed was extremely satisfying.”
Chris Charles ’19
Registered Nurse, Medical Intensive Care Unit Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
“We would leave work but we’d always take our experiences home with us. Families are not allowed in the hospital for COVID patients, so we are constantly updating families by phone. This starts to weigh on you because these are private moments for the families to share.
“We had a particularly sick patient who we would FaceTime with their family. It was brutal, emotionally. The family was so emotional and distraught. They’re crying and I’m trying not to cry.
“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime situation. This has solidified my thoughts and beliefs on compassion and empathy for a nurse. The importance of simply brushing someone’s hair, that’s not clinical in nature, for instance. It’s reinforced this belief in being a bedside nurse. There’s an understanding of the roles and unique position we play at the bedside.”
Phuong Vo ’17
Staff Nurse Brigham And Women’s Hospital
“Many COVID-19 patients develop symptoms of depression from the lack of socialization, so it’s so important now to provide emotional support to patients when we can. We’re trying to connect patients with the nursing staff and their family through phones and iPads. I remember having a non-Englishspeaking patient, and he was very quiet most of the time. The staff was very good about using the interpreter to help him understand his plan of care and call his daughter to update her on how the patient was. When I came to his room, I casually asked if he had talked to any of his family, and he told me he had not talked to them since his daughter brought him to the emergency room. He was very weak, so I helped him dial his daughter’s number and hold the phone to his ear. I also used the iPad interpreter to make sure the patient and his daughter got through to each other.
“Another time I had a patient who wanted to listen to music so he could sleep at night. I put on some music on the hospital TV, but he was not impressed. I asked him for his permission to use his phone for YouTube, and I was able to put on a playlist of the kind of music that he liked. He was able to sleep well that night with the music on, and the next night when I came in, he told me, 'thank you for being my friend last night.' When I first knew I would be on a COVID unit, I was afraid, not knowing what to expect. But as I come to work now, I’m glad I can still provide the best care that I can to help patients during this difficult time."