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What It’s Really Like Out There

Kristin Pelletier

Kristin Pelletier

Central Writer & Editor
Not only is she walking into the rooms of COVID-19 patients to turn them onto their bellies to facilitate easier breathing, but Jenna is also starting a conversation within our community about these harrowing days she and her friends in the medical field are facing. She wants us to know what it's really like out there.

Jenna, a Physical Therapist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has attended Kensington’s Clinton Twp campus with her family for a few years. She believes her strong faith foundation is helping her in this challenging season of fear and ever-changing job responsibilities. “…I started on the ‘prone team.’ Basically, my team is responsible for turning patients onto their bellies to allow them to breathe easier in the hope of reducing the amount of time needed to be on the breathing machine.”

It takes courage just to walk into the room of a COVID-19 patient, Jenna admits, but she’s been focusing on the phrase from Kensington’s previous series: Hope is not canceledShe’s also been reading Rediscover the Saints by Matthew Kelly, which feels more relevant now than ever, “[This book] provided a wonderful example of how saints are people doing amazing things in God’s name. It gives me motivation to show up to work every day.” 

Jenna is grateful for this opportunity to share her experience, and she’s gathered stories from her sister and friends as well. “Thank you…[it has] been therapeutic for all of us to write about how our daily lives have changed.”  

What if during the most stressful season of your life, you had to avoid all contact with those you love most?

You’ve probably heard stories of medical staff staying away from their families because of the very real danger of spreading COVID-19 to them. Even if it’s becoming somewhat common, it’s a considerable sacrifice for each one of them.

Meredith, a school Speech and Language Pathologist, shares how she and her husband have chosen to live apart because of his residency program in Family Medicine at the University of Michigan. Meredith says that her husband is a hero – her hero – and that he goes to work each day with a brave face despite the deep-down fear.

“As the wife of a family physician resident with a one-year-old, we made the very difficult decision that my son and I should isolate from my husband during this time. My husband is working long hours at the hospital and is most likely getting exposed to COVID-19 regularly…We ultimately decided that it would be best if my son and I moved back home to my parents’ for the time being—with no end date and a lot of unanswered questions.”

Meredith believes that God has been very present to her family during this time. “Every night when I put my one-year-old to bed, I sing “I See the Moon” to him. It tells how God is always with us during difficult times and He always loves us. We know God is with us and God will protect us…”

“We did not sign up for this…We did not sign up to be army nurses. We signed up to help people with adequate supplies and protection. YET, we still show up…” says Kristjiana.

Kristjiana, a friend of Jenna’s, is a Registered Nurse in a COVID+ Medical Intensive Care Unit working the frontlines of this pandemic. She shares openly about the range of emotions that surface as she fights this battle of a different kind.

“Every day, it takes me at least five minutes to enter a patient’s room. I have to plan carefully to ensure I do everything I have to do for the patient. I feel guilty because I don’t want my patients to be lonely. I feel guilty because every time I enter, I risk exposing myself, my coworkers, everyone we interact with. I feel scared and paranoid every day. I get in my head about my mask not being on right and contracting the virus. I have nightmares about becoming sick. I wake up in a panic at night. My face and head hurt from the tight masks and face shield. My heart hurts because families can’t see their loved ones in such vulnerable moments. My heart hurts for myself because I can’t hug my coworkers…”

Kristjana explains that even new diseases are usually treated similarly – within a known framework of processes and tools. “[Usually] we know the enemy,” she says, but now they’re not so sure and “it’s scary not knowing.” Nurses receive several emails a day with updates on new processes, and PPE has been limited.

“We’re running out of everything (masks, gowns, gloves, medications, staff, ventilators, etc). We’re all learning to be very flexible and adapt to change. They put up plastic walls so we can take care of more patients.”

Kristjana’s first of many moments of helplessness came several weeks ago, when she couldn’t find a mask for her coworker. “I checked every stash I had, I couldn’t find one in her size. I ran to the next unit, checked their stash, still couldn’t find one. I called the charge nurse, still no masks. I was so scared, I wanted to angry cry. How could we not have enough supplies? I began to hyperventilate as I thought about her husband and children. It was one of the most helpless feelings I’ve had in my life.”

The challenges and perpetual fear are offset by something though: teamwork. Kristjana says that she is working alongside “an amazing group of people whom she can rely on when things get much much harder. ” She even refers to them as “my people,” and sees them pulling together toward victory.

How do you cancel appointments for a patient facing cancer? How do you prioritize a life-threatening disease versus a life-threatening virus?” asks Madison.

Madison, Jenna’s sister, is a Certified Child Life Specialist who runs the Families Facing Cancer Program within the Patient and Family Support Services (PFSS) Department at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center. They provide services which support the psychosocial needs of cancer patients and their families.

“Healthcare professionals are helpers, fixers, and doers. They want…everyone to be safe and healthy,” Madison says, “but what if that is overtaken by something out of your control, a life-threatening, global virus with no cure?”

A few weeks ago, Madison was told to work remotely. She was heart-broken. Now she is supporting her patients and their families as best she can over the phone. “I offer suggestions on supporting their children, provide as many resources as I can, listen to them, validate their fears and concerns knowing I have many of the same, try to provide humility and support at a time where isolation closes in on already isolated population. The scare of this virus causes stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty to individuals and their families who are already experiencing that on a daily basis with a cancer diagnosis.”

Madison has three requests for us as a community:
  1. Please take the precautions and the executive order seriously.
  2. Please pray for one another and all frontline workers.
  3. Please intentionally support the children in your life. (See Tips below).

. Talk to your children in a way they can understand. Use a calm voice, and keep conversations simple and age-appropriate.
Listen to your child and ask open-ended questions. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” “What do you already know?” Use this time to clear up misconceptions and provide honest, accurate information. Also, limit children’s access to media which can spread scary and false information.
Validate a child’s feelings and help them manage anxiety, not eliminate it. Example: “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay. I’m here and I’m going to help you through this.”
Brainstorm ways to manage the anxiety. Practice deep belly breathing, doing arts and crafts, listening to or making music, doing physical activity, and so on. Help children come up with a list of activities that are enjoyable to them. Play continues to be a child’s most important job.
Reassure children that you have a plan to keep them safe. This can be an opportunity to talk about the importance of washing hands, cleaning toys, encouraging them to keep things away from their face, telling an adult if they’re feeling sick, and so on.
Model appropriate coping and the behavior you want to see. Children often look to adults and observe how they handle situations. Try to recognize when you are feeling stressed or anxious and verbalize what you are going to do to help yourself.If you’re on the front lines during this global pandemic, we want to hear your story! Share in the comments below. Together, we will come out stronger.

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