COVID-19 Response

In Their Own Words

Nursing faculty, students and alumni share their experiences on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic

Nurses with masks at hospital

KRIS BOTTINI (far right) with colleagues in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Sinai Grace Hospital. Bottini graduated the ASD program in April of 2018.

Student Success

icon of a calendarMay 8, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Kelli M. Titus

Share this story

In March 2020, early in the fight against COVID-19, Oakland University School of Nursing (SON) leadership reached out to fellow SON nurses, asking how they were faring on the frontlines. Alumni, faculty and students shared their stories of working with COVID-19 patients, their struggles, fears and words of hope and inspiration for future nurses.

THERESA JOHNSON, DNP, MS, RN, FNP-BC
Faculty, Adjunct Professor
I am currently working as a Nurse Practitioner within one of the local health systems. Working on the front line and directly with COVID-19 patients has been unimaginable. Having a nursing background in emergency medicine as well as the intensive care unit (ICU), I am well versed in dealing with difficult situations. But this is different. We always hear that nurses are important and the eyes, ears and hearts of the hospital. We often notice critical changes first, empathize with our patients and families, and communicate things with the team. This has proven to be true now more than ever.

On several occasions over the past two weeks I have had to look a patient in the eyes and have a conversation about the COVID-19 virus and what is happening inside of their body. I have had patients tell me that they are scared and not ready to die. I’ve also had to call the family members and share the news that we have intubated their family member and they are now sedated on a ventilator. Through these tough times the one thing that has comforted both patients and families, is the reassurance and promise that I am and will continue to take care of the patient like they are my very own loved one...my mother, my father, my brother or my sister.

This is a time for unity. Health care teams are working together day and night to care for not only our patients, but also each other… we are all leaning on each other and there is comfort and strength found in that. When times like this are upon us and you are feeling down, overworked, understaffed or under equipped, I remember why I work in health care — to save lives. And no matter how hard it gets, I will not quit. We will make it through.

DANIEL KONJA, BSN, RN
Alumni, BSN ‘17
I currently work at Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Warren in the emergency department. First, I would like to say the general public is doing a fantastic job staying inside and listening to the directions of the CDC. Please continue to stay home and self-isolate, even with the absence of any respiratory symptoms. I’m glad to say we currently have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), but we are being cautious about the amount we are using in order to keep the shelves stocked. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire with symptoms ranging from mild coughs to full blown respiratory distress that requires a ventilator to keep breathing. It appears that each day, patients are getting sicker, especially those with chronic health conditions and the geriatric population. Hospital leaders must be creative as there may not be enough ICU beds during this pandemic. Another major issue is having adequately trained staff in each area as there are not an unlimited amount of ICU nurses. Sourcing ventilators, PPE, and other pertinent equipment may also become a challenge for hospital leadership. For this reason, preparing early for the upcoming challenges is essential.

ALYSSA IANNELLO, BSN, RN
Faculty, Clinical and Lab
I am a full-time nurse working in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit in Detroit. Currently, my unit is housing more than half of our census with COVID+ patients.  I wanted to share with you what it’s like for my peers and I.

Going to work every day gets scarier and scarier. I have to get to work almost an hour before my shift starts to get a parking spot. Then, I stand in a line with other employees to get screened.  If you pass, you get a dot sticker on your badge. Then you get some foam hand sanitizer and go to your unit. Lately, when we start work, we’re already low on PPE and waiting for supplies to be replenished, so we don’t go in the rooms to bedside report anymore. We angle our IV pumps to face the door so we can see our drip rates. It’s critical to know what medication is on what pump in case it starts to beep. My unit has been lucky enough to have respirators and face shields (think SWAT team-esque). Currently, the respirator doesn’t fit me, so while I wait for a smaller size to be ordered, I am wearing N95’s. 

Most of the patients are intubated. All of the doors are shut. I can’t imagine how scary and quiet it is for the patients. Most are sedated, although sometimes not enough. We have had several self-extubations because we can’t get in the room fast enough to stop it. We call and update the families every morning after rounds. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a patient who told me she would tell whoever is “up there” good things about me so she’ll see me in heaven. She made me cry. Luckily, she was able to move out of the ICU, but she was so scared and fragile. And I couldn’t do anything to help her with that. That’s the worst part about this. We’ve never seen this before; we don’t know what to expect yet. We are doing our best, but it might not be enough for some of the patients. I cry a lot. 

This was my first year of teaching both clinical and lab. I’m so sad it was cut short. I miss my students every week. I want the future nurses to remember that we are stronger in numbers. It’s okay to be scared, we all are. Nursing is changing, and it’s about being flexible. This has been prevalent more than ever when this started. Everyday things were changing. 

I don’t have the answers.  I don’t think anyone does.  But I hope that this doesn’t scare people away from the field. We can do some really great things once this is over. 

ANGELA YEE, MSN, RN, AGCNS-BC
Alumni, BSN ’12

I am currently a nurse at University of Michigan Hospital in the medical ICU and the COVID-19 ICU called the RICU (Regional Infectious Containment Unit). I’m also a professor at University of Michigan’s SON undergraduate program. Everyone on my home unit (medical ICU) has gone above and beyond to care for our COVID-19 patients and support each other through this challenging time. Many of us have made sacrifices, from volunteering countless overtime hours working in the RICU (where our sickest COVID-19 patients are), to staying at hotels or having family members stay elsewhere in fear of taking home the virus to their loved ones. Teamwork and friendship are what’s keeping us optimistic and motivated. Everyone at U of M’s ICU are doing their absolute best to fight this pandemic. We know we will get through this together.

SARAH MORRISSEY, BSN, RN, CCRN
Student, MSN ’21
I work in the ICU. We took the first critical COVID-19 patients in the hospital, and we have expanded rapidly in the last two weeks. Nearly every one of our patients is on a ventilator. I have heard from colleagues working in the Emergency Department about the increase in visits from patients with mental health concerns and surely this includes patient-victims of abuse and violence. I worry about the availability of resources for them at this time. I know that there are people trapped in homes with abusive partners, and that the stress of isolation and financial concerns make violence more likely. I worry especially about our vulnerable elderly population. I wonder what will come out when this is all over. Still, I feel very isolated from potential forensic patients in the ICU. 

Truthfully, I am most concerned about the impact on the frontline staff who are providing direct care to COVID-19 patients. Simple tasks require extensive planning, as any interaction puts you at greater risk. As nurses, we are now the only human contact for our patients, and we try our best to provide the love and support that family and friends otherwise would. Nurses from almost every unit in the hospital are now helping care for critical patients. The end-result is a level of stress and uncertainty unlike anything any of us could have imagined previously. I fear that countless health professionals will experience post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the pandemic but I am thankful that our forensic training will allow me and my fellow classmates to identify and support them.

JESSICA SIROTTI, BSN, RN
Faculty, Clinical and Fundamentals Lab
I am one of the clinical faculty/lab instructors here at OU, but I am also an ER nurse. My home is Childrens Hospital in Detroit in the Emergency Department (ED), but COVID has not been bad at Children’s at all and they’re actually overstaffed so a lot of us, myself included, have been picking up in our sister adult EDs and ICUs. I primarily have been working at Sinai-Grace and Detroit Receiving in their EDs. The patient loads are a lot at both hospitals and everyone is incredibly busy.

I am so proud to be a nurse, now more than ever, because of all the support we are given by our management, but especially my coworkers. We encourage each other and are there for each other, especially when we can’t see our families. It is incredibly difficult for everyone right now, but especially those seeing it first-hand. I am grateful to so many community members delivering food and sending gift baskets for the staff, it makes us feel appreciated when a lot of times as bedside nurses we do not.

I know there is a lack of PPE and we are seeing it every day, but the fact that so many people have come forward and donated homemade masks and are writing us love notes showing support on chalk outside the hospital really makes us feel like we’re doing some good. The media and the public are calling us health care heroes, but I really don’t feel like a hero. I am “just a nurse” trying to do what I can to help people. I feel like a hospice nurse every day and I’ve cried a lot for these people. It breaks my heart holding the phone while they video chat and say their goodbyes to their loved ones. Standing by and not being able to do anything to help hurts every fiber of my being. 

My advice for new graduates and students is to remember why you went into nursing. We’re all here to help people and that’s all we want to do. Don’t lose sight of that and definitely rely on your coworkers and your nursing friends for support. Find a way to release your emotions; cry, do some yoga, go for a run, meditate, take a bath, drink a glass of wine, read a book, watch some Netflix, do something. Take time for yourself, don’t burn yourself out, and practice self-love and self-care. It is so, so, so important to put yourself first, especially in tough times like these. I absolutely love being a nurse and I am so proud to be on the front lines helping with my nursing brothers and sisters. We are COVID strong and we will get through this.

JOANNA HERNANDEZ, DNP, RN, AGACNP-B
Alumni, RN-BSN ’12 | Faculty, Assistant Professor

As an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner at a metro Detroit hospital, I have been working in the emergency department and emergency 23-hour observation. Even though I haven’t been directly treating patients COVID-19 myself, I have seen other providers have to ask a patient right away if they want to be resuscitated when they arrive at the Emergency Department (ED) with decreased oxygen saturation levels. One patient I saw refused to be intubated. She could barely breathe and she had to make the decision on her own, as family members aren’t allowed back in the ED. It was heartbreaking for me as I couldn’t imagine having to make that decision on my own and not be able to tell anyone what was going on. Across the hall that same day, a patient was being coded secondary to COVID-19. Only a few people were allowed in the room to do CPR and Advanced Cardiac Life Support, including intubation. Orders were being called in via walkie talkie to the room and they were keeping track of what they were doing by writing on the door to the room. The patient died. I left the hospital that day crying.

I’ve been presumed COVID positive, but my test was negative. It took almost 2-1/2 weeks to find out. I think it was a false negative, but I’m not sure. I’m exhausted. I’m mentally drained. I’m scared. The fear for me comes at the end of the day. Did I touch my face after I diagnosed a new patient? Are we going to run out of PPE? Will I have a new N95 to wear for every shift? I don’t wear my wedding ring as I am scared to bring home COVID. This is the first time in fifteen years I have taken it off. I haven’t slept in the same bed as my husband. We don’t kiss or hug. I can’t hug my toddler when she comes running to see me when I walk in the door. My face and nose hurt after eight hours of wearing two masks.

I have to tell you, despite all of this, I have NEVER been prouder to be a nurse. This is my calling and passion. I’m not a hero. I don’t like to be called a hero. I am here to help others. Beneath the exhaustion and the fear, I see nurses who want to make a difference. We care. Nurses are being pulled out of their comfort zones to go to other units. One day, when this is all over, it might be all a blur for me. But I hope I will be able to say, even if it is just for one patient, I made a difference. I AM A NURSE

Share this story