When Jennifer Moyne, RN, returns home after a nursing shift at the University of Michigan Hospital, the first thing she does is strip in the garage before heading straight to a hot shower. Only once she’s sure she has washed off any potential contaminants does she revert to her more normal routine.
“I’ve been a nurse for a long time. I’ve never—none of us have felt this degree of worry before about taking something home and being worried about catching it,” Moyne said of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It doesn’t stop us from doing our job. We do it, and we love nursing, and that’s why we’re there.
“I do wonderful things in nursing every day, but this is so off the usual beaten path that it makes me very proud to be a nurse,” she continued. “It’s an important thing right now. It always is, but I guess it’s been pushed forward with this. It makes me very proud to do what I do, and I can see it in my coworkers’ faces. They’re concerned; they’re scared, and we’re all trying to lift each other up.”
Moyne, who’s worked at the hospital for nearly 30 years, is a member of what the hospital calls the SWAT team. They’re responsible for critical care transport within the hospital, moving patients to and from the intensive care unit and down to procedural areas. When the coronavirus started spreading in the United States, their job became doubly important.
“If you’re in ICU, and you need an MRI, instead of making your bedside nurse go—[that nurse] usually has two patients—we’ll get a report from her and take you down to MRI,” Moyne said. “If you need sedation or medication that needs to be monitored, we’ll monitor that patient down there, and then take them back up to their nurses and hand them back off to them.”
When the outbreak began, Moyne increased her hours and volunteered to work in the newly developed respiratory isolation care unit, to deal with the greater number of patients requiring ventilation. The attached C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, which had a negative flow capacity, was cleared of all patients and converted into another ICU ward.
“What we were hearing and [have] seen is a lot of these people need to be ventilated very quickly,” she said. “They go down very fast, progress and can’t breathe, and we set it up as that, and we staffed that. We did things we’ve never done before like patient rooms that were meant to be for only one patient had two patients in them, which is very challenging.
“As time went on and we got more patients in, we tried to have clean floors and dirty floors so patients were moved around,” Moyne continued. “There was a lot of patient movement, and then they would designate some floors and certain rooms for the corona patients.”
Moyne said the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based hospital has been lucky in that they aren’t overrun. They’ve even taken overflow patients from downtown Detroit. Having patients who are facing the unknown alone has been one of the most difficult parts for Moyne.
“They’re scared and petrified, and they’re not sure they’re going to make it or not, and their family can’t be there,” she said. “We’ve heard a lot of really hard phone calls, and it’s hard to hear. It’s something we wouldn’t want our family to have to go through, and it’s hard to watch somebody else go through that.”
But there have been positives as well. They’ve seen an uptick in patients who recovered enough to come off ventilation, and when it’s time to transition those patients to moderate care, it feels like a win for hospital staff.
“I just transferred a gentleman out yesterday,” she said. “I was so happy to see him go to moderate care. He had to be intubated for two weeks, and I was just so excited to see him go. I had taken care of him in the RICU. It’s good to see those kinds of cases.”
With increased concern over staff transmitting the disease to their loved ones, the hospital began offering lodging to any staff member who wants it. It was something Moyne, 51, and her husband James Moyne discussed but ultimately decided against since it was just the two of them. In addition to Jennifer’s work at the hospital, they’ve been making face shields, which are in short supply. James is an associate research scientist at the university, so he’s been making the plastic portion with the help of a student.
An avid amateur rider, Jennifer competes in dressage with her 17-year-old Clydesdale-Thoroughbred cross (Orchard Gore Hiawatha Silver—Alphanumera) named Ephraim. Though barns are still open, Jennifer has stopped visiting her horse for the time being.
“I initially talked with my barn manager about coming late at night after everybody had left,” she said. “But when the data came out that it could survive on surfaces for long periods I immediately became concerned about the people that have their horses stabled right next to me. Also, my instructor, her mother is elderly, and she helps take care of her. I had to stop going altogether, which I don’t like, but I don’t want to give it to anybody and have them pass it on to somebody else and have that person die. It’s a few months out of my time with my horse. It’s not what I would prefer, but it’s something I have to do.”
Despite the elevated level of anxiety related to fighting the epidemic, Jennifer said she’s grateful to be on the front lines and that she appreciates everyone who chooses to stay home during this time.
“I can’t imagine how hard it is for everybody to sit at home and to not be able to go see their horse and then to not have a job,” she said. “It’s been scary to go to work, but in a way it’s a relief because you can actively do something against this. I think when people sit at home they don’t feel like they’re actively helping the cause. It’s such a passive thing; I can’t imagine how hard that is. Kudos to everybody who is out there doing that. It’s wonderful that we didn’t see the numbers that we were expecting too, because we were really bracing to watch a lot of people die. While I’ve still had to do it, it’s at much-reduced numbers, and we’re very thankful for that.”