Heroes of the Surge: MGH nurses look back and offer advice for uncertain fall

BOSTON — Boston 25 News recently had the opportunity to sit down with five nurses from Mass General Hospital to talk about what it was like on the frontlines during the surge. The nurses came from various backgrounds, but all were called to help intensive care unit patients fighting the coronavirus this spring.

They talked frankly with Vanessa Welch about what they saw, how they dealt with what they experienced, and their perspectives looking ahead at the continued battle against the pandemic. Below are excerpts of that conversation.

“I’ve been here for 30 years, and I’ve never seen or experienced anything like this at all,” said MGH pediatric ICU nurse Kim Cheevers, reflecting back on the surge. “We were full with adult patients and for those of us that are pediatric practitioners, that was eye opening and frightening and overwhelming.”

“It was very overwhelming to have that realization of: this is what the next few months were going to be,” said MGH ICU nurse Lisa Flynn.

THE UNKNOWN

“Was it scary?” Welch asked.

“Yeah, it was. It was, and I think again, just kind of the unknown of everything that we were facing,” Flynn said.

“This was the first time for many of you in your career, you didn’t have a playbook to go by,” Welch said.

“We would have a meeting in the morning and two hours later, they come and be like, forget that. We changed it and be like, Okay, and so that happened almost every day for a couple of weeks and you think you’d have it down and it would change on a moment’s notice. And it wasn’t anybody’s fault. Everyone was trying their best and really making great efforts but it was just what it is. You’re learning as you go,” Cheevers said.

DARK DAYS

“My darkest day of nursing period was, we had two deaths within maybe less than 24 hours of each other and they were young, very young under 25, I would say. Patients that had a very similar outcome and I just remember calling my husband saying I’m not coming straight home from work, I need a few minutes to like, regroup. I can’t. I can’t like step into the role of wife right now,” said MGH ICU nurse Aileen Patel.

“It was heartbreaking, but our job was to do everything we could to make them feel comfortable and cared for,” said MGH Cancer Center nurse George Lillie. “One of the big fears for a lot of us, were our loved ones, you know… we’re going to do everything in our power not to bring this home.”

“You were worried about your kids?” asked Welch.

“Very. Yeah, we had a routine of changing clothes here (at the hospital). My kids still call these my COVID shoes,” said Patel.

LIFTED UP BY COMMUNITY

“What got you through the dark days?” asked Welch.

“Definitely my co-workers,” said Flynn. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being kind of a really strong family knit kind of unit”

“We’re all on the same page somehow, even though we’re still chaos going on,” added MGH general medicine nurse Asen Jamir. “And then definitely the community did a great job.”

“Children sent all kinds of drawings, just saying like, ‘Thank you keep up the good work’, and they posted them on the entrance of all of the ICU doors. We still have them up. We’re hoping they never take them down,” said Flynn.

LOOKING AHEAD TO FALL

“What’s the message to the community? How can we prevent that possible second search?” Welch asked.

“Get your weight down and your blood pressure and control your nutrition status,” said Cheevers. “Get your sleep and your rest and go into this next surge healthy. I feel like you’ll have… a better shot.”

“Please, I would say wear a mask!” added Lillie.

“We have to do the right thing for each other and for everyone to keep everyone safe,” said Flynn. “We will get through this and there will be brighter days ahead, but for right now, we just kind of have to keep pushing through.


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