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This is Nephrology Nurses Week, and our latest Nurse of the Week is RN Sandy Nichols, who treats acute dialysis patients in hospitals in Albuquerque. When there was a call for nurses willing to volunteer in COVID hotspots, Sandy stepped forward and flew out to Chicago. The need for nephrology nurses was urgent: AKI is a complication that affects about 15% of all hospitalized coronavirus patients—even those with no previous history of kidney problems—and 20% of the COVID patients in ICU suffer from kidney failure.
After parting from her husband and 20-year old daughter in New Mexico, for nearly a month Sandy devoted 12-18 hours a day to caring for Chicago’s COVID patients—and she says she’s ready to go back if she’s needed. Sandy told DailyNurse about her background as a nephrology nurse and shared her reflections on the pandemic and her frontline experience.
DailyNurse: How long have you been a nephrology nurse, and how did you decide on this field?
Sandy Nichols: “I have been a nephrology nurse for eight and a half years and have worked in every form of renal replacement therapy available except for kidney transplantation. I first learned about nephrology nursing during my third semester of nursing school when I was one of two nursing students chosen to go for a week of clinicals in a chronic hemodialysis clinic. I hadn’t decided on the field of nursing I wanted to go into yet so I went in with an open mind. From that first day, I was fascinated by the mechanics of the dialysis machines, the concepts of renal replacement therapies, the dedication and involvement in the patients’ health, and the knowledge that I could be giving my patients life because of the care I was providing with every treatment.”
DN: What were your first thoughts about COVID—and what are your current views on the pandemic?
SN: “When I first heard about COVID-19, I thought, “Wow! That is going to spread quickly through China because of the sheer number of people living so close together there.” I could’ve never imagined what we’ve now seen here. This pandemic has impacted every human being in some way.
“I needed to do this. I felt like it was my calling because both our patients and my colleagues in those cities needed help.”
When Fresenius Kidney Care asked for nurses to volunteer in hospitals because of the rise in acute kidney injury caused by COVID-19, I just knew I needed to do this. I felt like it was my calling because both our patients and my colleagues in those cities needed help. Having seen the effects of this virus firsthand, and helping patients fighting it, the most important message I share with people is to take this seriously. Help us slow the spread of COVID-19 by social distancing, wearing masks, and washing your hands.”
DN: What prompted you to start working on the front lines?
SN: “When I started to hear about all of the different places being hit so hard by COVID-19 and the nursing shortages, I knew I wanted to help in some way. I always had the desire to volunteer when natural disasters would happen but I was never in a position to do so, until now. As soon as Fresenius put out the call for volunteers, I signed up. I knew that I was drawn into nursing to help people and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that then to go and give my fellow nurses support when they so desperately needed it.”
DN: What were the most striking aspects of your experience?
SN: “Going into Chicago, which was known as a hot zone at the time, I was anticipating staffing and supply shortages, long grueling hours, and constant chaos. What was most striking in my time there was the camaraderie that I witnessed and felt every day. The staff was exhausted and overwhelmed working 18 to 24-hour shifts to maintain patient care, but they were all so supportive and helpful of each other. It was so obvious that they were all bound together as one big family. They welcomed me in as one of their own and even invited me to one of their rare potlucks.”
“The staff was exhausted and overwhelmed working 18 to 24-hour shifts to maintain patient care, but they were all so supportive and helpful of each other.”
“I got to see success stories of patients with COVID-19 who survived being on a ventilator and walk out of the hospital. They would announce a “Code Joy” over the intercom and everyone would stop and cheer. I also saw devastating outcomes that broke my heart. Going through those experiences, which I will never forget, gave me a whole new perspective and I truly believe it made me a better person and a better nurse.”
DN: What are you doing now?
SN: “I am currently working in an acute setting at Fresenius Kidney Care in Albuquerque, NM. The camaraderie that I experienced in Chicago has followed me back to Albuquerque because my coworkers are closer to me than ever before. We are there together, going through the same thing, every workday. I am so thankful for my career and the knowledge I continue to gain every day. I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without the support of my work family and my home family as well as my community in New Mexico and my company, Fresenius Kidney Care.”
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