By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
The woman was trying to tell registered nurse Laura Punt something.
She couldn’t speak because she was on a ventilator, but she was becoming more alert as nurses turned down her sedation levels.
After several minutes, she was able to point to her heart and then back to Punt.
That small gesture left Punt overcome with emotion.
“I looked at her and said, ‘Are you just trying to thank me?’”
The patient nodded yes, then squeezed Punt’s hand.
That moment in time will forever be in Punt’s own heart as she reflects on her experience working in a COVID unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that in the adult world,” she said. “She completely melted my heart out of my body!”
Punt, who typically works in the medical-surgical resource nurse pool at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, is one of scores of nurses, physicians, therapists and other personnel from Riley who have redeployed to other IU Health hospitals to help support care during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not an easy transition from the pediatric world to adults. There was a lot of anxiety, the nurses interviewed for this story said. But they answered the call because it was “the next right thing.”
“A SACRED VOCATION”
Hannah Green hangs onto the message from the song “The Next Right Thing,” heard in the Disney movie “Frozen II,” which she watched with her niece.
“Take a step, step again It is all that I can do The next right thing I won't look too far ahead It's too much for me to take But break it down to this next breath, this next step This next choice is one that I can make So I'll walk through this night Stumbling blindly toward the light And do the next right thing”
Green, who normally works as an operating nurse on the neurosurgery team at Riley, was redeployed to Methodist to work with COVID patients on a medical-surgical unit, not in the ICU. She acknowledged that it was “a little nerve-wracking” going from pediatrics to adults, and from surgery to bedside nursing, but she wanted to be as helpful as she could.
“I think I was preparing to go to ICU and be with patients fighting for their life on ventilators,” she said.
But instead of being in what she feared might be a hopeless situation, she walked into a unit on 6 South where the nurses are upbeat and the patients are doing pretty well, she said.
Seeing other healthcare providers around the country who are struggling for extra hands and supplies was a call to arms for Green.
“It was a reminder that nursing really is a vocation and, yes, I’m very privileged to be specialized and lucky to find an area that I really like in surgery, but in a situation like this – being called literally to the front line, it really was a reminder that this is a sacred vocation,” she said.
Her mission is to go out and provide support and relief for other nurses and patients and prepare for whatever surge may be coming.
PEACE AND PURPOSE
Mari Saucedo turned to her faith to find the strength she needed to shift from her role in the post-anesthesia care unit at Riley to the adult world during this pandemic. After a week working at Methodist in more of a support role to the nurses caring for COVID patients, her anxiety has been replaced by a renewed sense of purpose.
“I feel I have peace now,” she said. “Before, I was so anxious. I went through a prayerful period sorting out my place in all of this. I was very scared. I’m a planner, I have my routine. I feel confident in what I’m doing at Riley, taking care of my patients. The unknown always has scared me.”
She prayed: “God, I don’t think I can do this. Pick someone else.”
Her daughter encouraged her. Her friends encouraged her. Her supervisor encouraged her.
And so she went. It’s what she is called to do.
“I became a nurse because I’ve always wanted to help people. I want people to be at peace around me. I love helping my kiddos through surgery, comforting them, easing their anxiety,” Saucedo said.
Turns out she can be that light in the adult world, too.
“It doesn’t matter whether it is kids, adults or the elderly, when you have that love and that passion, you just step up and you believe it’s going to be OK. I may not have ICU experience, but when it comes to nursing, tell me what you need help with and I’ll do it. It all comes naturally when you really want to help.”
All of her Methodist colleagues have been welcoming and appreciative of the help, she said, even though she feels she’s not doing enough sometimes.
“Anything I need to do to help a nurse I’ll do it. If she needs help turning her patient or needs me to pull a medication for her, stocking … whatever they need is what I do.”
Saucedo, who expects to work another week or two at Methodist, also gets a chance to talk to patients, something she enjoys. She smiles a lot and forgets sometimes that her patients can’t see that smile behind the mask she wears. So she takes the time to talk to them, to hold their hand, to let them know they’re not alone.
ALL OF IU HEALTH WORKING TOGETHER
The nurses, the therapists, the support personnel who have redeployed to Methodist and other hospitals to work alongside their colleagues on and behind the front lines are all soldiers in the army of healthcare workers fighting today’s public health battle.
Jessica Gorka, a nurse on the stem cell unit at Riley, is just one tiny piece of the puzzle working at Methodist now, she said.
On her first day on the renal/palliative care floor, she said, “You feel like a new grad and you don’t want to get in the way.”
But it wasn’t long before she was able to show what she is capable of doing.
Calling it a humbling experience, she sees “all of IU Health working together to help one another.”
And everyone, she said, “has been so gosh darn nice.”
“I’m humbled that I can take my experience and apply it to the adult world while still showing them how I can help and learn new things.”
Like everyone who has had to move outside their comfort zone – both at work and at home, the Riley nurses lean on each other and look forward to better days for all.
Green taps into the lyrics to “The Next Right Thing” to keep her moving forward.
“For me as a healthcare provider, I can’t think about what this is going to do to our economy every day. I can’t think about the stress families are under not being able to hold memorial services for their loved ones or be there when they’re dying,” she said.
“I can’t get overwhelmed by those things and still provide good nursing care, so that’s been my focus – to take the next step, do the next right thing and keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
IU Health team members can request a chaplain to visit a patient or provide spiritual support to family, friends and team members by calling 317-962-8611 at Methodist Hospital or 317-944-7415 at Riley.