Nurse of the Week Danielle Fenn understands the vital role of communication in nursing.
Fenn, an RN at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, is originally from Brazil, and during the COVID crisis she used her knowledge of Portuguese to make the hospital space more inviting for non-English speaking COVID patients.
It began, she told ABC News, when a co-worker told her, “we were getting a COVID patient that was from Brazil that didn’t speak very much English. They had trouble communicating with him and he was scared. Fenn swooped in to soothe the frightened man as she “walked him through simple questions and gave him my cell number. I told him if he needed anything to call me.” She also left a friendly “Good Morning” message in Portuguese to greet the patient the next morning.
The positive effect inspired her to reach out to other non-English speakers who were being treated, she says. “I developed a relationship with them and decided to create signs around the hospital to help other patients and health care workers. Signs are very important for patients who can’t speak English very well… For the little simple things, it’s nice to be able to use these signs.”
Like many nurses, Fenn’s dedication to the profession was reinforced by personal experience as a caregiver; in this case the patient was her late husband. “I made a promise to myself that if anyone that ever needed my care or any loved one would need something, I would be there. Little did I know that was going to be my husband. My husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. It was very hard. Our children were aged 5 and 3.” Of losing her spouse, Fenn says, ”That was definitely the hardest.” Her loss has failed to dampen her enthusiasm for caregiving, though: “But still, being a nurse is just my favorite. I love to come in and be able to bring a smile to their faces.”
To see a video featuring Danielle Fenn’s story, visit this ABC News page.
Nurse of the Week Ben Busey is no stranger to crises. In addition to working as an Urgent Care Nurse Manager at the Roseburg VA Medical Center in Oregon, Busey is also a part of the VA’s Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS), which deployed him in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck. So, he was ready to serve when COVID-19 started to spread in beleaguered New Orleans.
The 34-year-old Busey spent two weeks at the VA in New Orleans at the height of the pandemic, and says, “The first day I walked in there, two people died within the first two hours of me arriving. They had just run out of body bags, the ICU.” In addition to coping with the strained hospital resources, like most frontline nurses he did all he could to maintain connections between isolated patients and their loved ones: “I would end up calling them in the middle of the night to give them updates on a small improvement on my patient, just because I knew that they couldn’t see their family member and they weren’t allowed to be on the unit with them, and they were probably just worrying all the time about how their family member was doing.”
Warned of the PPE shortage in advance, he packed N95 masks for his trip, and used his small supply sparingly, often wearing the same mask for as many as five shifts in a row. Upon his arrival, he quickly learned that it is unwise to make assumptions merely because your age and health place you in a fairly low-risk group. As Busey recalls, “The person who oriented me for a couple of hours that first day when I arrived, he had just come back from being ill with COVID and he was 31. The way he described it, he said every day he sat in his room and he wondered am I dying, because he felt so sick and short of breath…” Fortunately, Busey himself returned unscathed; his test results after his return to Oregon proved negative.
Busey worked night shifts, and provided strong, capable support during his two weeks in New Orleans. When he came back to the Roseburg VA Medical Center, the Center presented him with official recognition for his work during the crisis.
For more on Dan Busey’s experience in New Orleans, visit here.
As a single mother with a four-year-old daughter and another baby on the way, Felicia Shaner was already in a difficult position, but even after becoming homeless, this Nurse of the Week doggedly pursued her nursing studies.
Now 26 years old, Felicia began her healthcare career as a housekeeper on the staff of Easton Hospital in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, but the experience quickly fired her ambition to become a nurse. After becoming a CNA, she was determined to make nursing her career: “I was a CNA for five years, and I was seeing the nurses and thought, I don’t want to be a CNA, I want to be a nurse.”
Felicia found herself homeless just as she was preparing to take the next step and study for an LPN. Pregnant with her second child, she and her toddler moved into a shelter, then stayed at a transitional housing program for residents taking part in educational or vocational programs while she studied for her degree. Now a mother of two children, for the next 18 months Felicia combined day shifts as a CNA with night classes at the Penn State Lehigh Valley LPN program, ferrying her young ones from daycare to evening care in between.
It was hard, but she had powerful reasons for driving on: “My motivation was my kids and how much better we were going to live after this. I cried so many times during school, but the only thing I could think of was the outcome.” She adds, “I want them to know that even when you’re down, there’s always a way up. Education is crucial.”
Now living in Section 8 housing with her little family, Felicia is on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as she works in an assisted-living facility as a nursing supervisor. Having attained her LPN, she’s set her sights on her next goal: in 2021, she will begin studies for an RN degree. For those struggling with similar situations, Felicia offers encouragement and advice: “If you want to [go back to school] but you’re thinking about how hard it’s going to be, you can do it. There is a way. It’s going to be stressful, but the outcome will be worth it.”
For more details on Felicia Shaner, see her story on Lehigh Valley Live.
Isolated from everyone but healthcare workers clad in PPE and denied the comfort of family visits, COVID-19 patients exist in a lonely world. Nurse of the Week Marc Perreault uses his musical gifts to try to bring a little intimacy and warmth into their lives. “You really do kind of get to know them and their ins and outs and their intricacies as human beings,” he said. “It [even] brings me a lot of comfort…. It really just kind of lightens the day and brings some levity to the day-to-day.”
As often as not, Marc’s voice moves his colleagues as well as their patients. One co-worker comments, “You’d walk by the room to see what’s going on, and there’s Marc singing to his patients. It just touched all of us. It was just such an amazing moment.”
Marc, who performs in a four-piece folk band, is a firm believer in the restorative power of music. He relates,”One thing that’s important for me is to share messages of hope. About a year ago, I cared for one patient who spent about a month under sedation. When she came out and transferred off the unit, she said, ‘that’s the guy who is always singing. I remembered him.'”
As with all of us, the pandemic has profoundly affected Perreault, an RN at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. While spending most of his time working in the ICU since the outbreak, he has been striving to make sense of his experiences, and hopes to find meaning in them by exercising his creativity. He says, “I’ve got like half a dozen half-written songs from all of this. The hope is that we can pull it all together in the end and make something beautiful out of something that’s kind of ugly.”
For more on Marc Perreault, see the story and video at 9News in Colorado Springs.
Tending to anxious parents is a daily challenge of nursing in a pediatric hospital, but how do you cope when you’re the anxious parent and the patient is your own 8-year-old daughter? At American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH) in Wisconsin, Nurse of the Week Windy Smith, MSN, RN is in this strange position while her daughter Ellie is undergoing chemotherapy for Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare cancer that causes tissue lesions.
While Langerhans cell histiocytosis can damage organs or cause tumors to form, most patients can be expected to survive. When the illness is more extensive, though, treatment can be grueling, and Smith’s little girl has been undergoing a year-long course of steroids, antibiotics, and hospital visits for chemotherapy treatment. Fortunately for Ellie and her mom, however, the 8-year-old’s favorite nurse has been available to provide care. Smith, a managing nurse at AFCH, says that Ellie “has to get labs before her chemotherapy and she has wanted me. She has a port in her chest, and so she has wanted me to access her port.” Her daughter explains her preference simply: “[It’s] just cause I sort of trust you more.” Smith reflects, “It’s like a heart-breaking privilege I have.”
Being able to participate in your own child’s treatment is indeed a privilege, but the experience has nonetheless been extremely stressful. “It’s all-consuming,” says Smith. “And while I know Ellie’s treatment is essential, it breaks my heart every time I access her port.” Their mother-daughter bond has helped to sustain them when things are hard. Noting that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, Smith remarks, “We have had some challenges with some depression and anxiety. It took us a while to actually start talking about it, start talking about feeling sad and feeling kind of angry about some of these things, but it’s really normal, so I’m glad she felt comfortable to open up and talk to us about it.”
Happily, Smith’s dual role will be over quite soon, and Ellie is eagerly looking forward to the end of her chemotherapy treatments, which will be marked by a Make-a-Wish trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios.
A video interview with Windy Smith is available at WKOW.
Former Peace Corps volunteer and Nurse of the Week Logan Marx has “two passions and they don’t intertwine very well, so I’m choosing to follow both of them.” While he finishes his last semester at University of South Florida Nursing School and prepares to enter critical care nursing as a Coverdell Fellow—a special fellowship for returning Peace Corps members—Logan also works with children at a community program for expanding health education among Tampa’s migrant population.
Of the children’s program (at the Wholesome Community Church in Wimauma), Marx says, “From the start, I wanted to focus on kids because I just love working with them. One thing the Peace Corps does well is the training stage where we focus on understanding our community and the population we’ll be working with. When we find out what’s really happening and where there are holes, we can help them fill. [In Wimauma] we’d been doing health screenings and fairs with adults, and I noticed they’d put the kids in another room and have them color or something. I realized that’s where we need to focus.”
A native of Dallas, Texas, Marx feels at home in Latinx communities: “I had this incredible Spanish teacher who just gave me a love for the Latino culture. That opened my eyes to the possibility of studying abroad during college, which I did, which made me desire to know more, learn more, and experience more growth.” His background served him well after he joined the Peace Corps and worked in Guayaquil, Ecuador for three years. The experience in Guayaquil also inspired him to go into nursing: “Ecuador was my way of getting 2,000 hours of clinical experience. My whole experience in Ecuador completely changed my perspective on health care, and that’s what made me decide nursing was the route that I wanted to go,” he says.
Marx is eager to begin working as an ICU nurse after he graduates, but he hasn’t forsaken his other “passion.” In addition to noting that “ultimately, I think a Masters in Public Health would be great,” he also dreams of one day returning to the Peace Corps as an overseas director. For now, though, nursing is Logan’s ruling passion. According to USF Nursing News, “On his first day of clinical visits at Tampa General Hospital, he met a woman from the Dominican Republic who was preparing to have her leg amputated. He was able to converse with her and her family in their native language, and that seemed to make all the difference, for her and him.” As Marx says of the experience, “It just reassured me that nursing is the right path.”
For more details
on Logan Marx, visit here.