Wright reflects on nine months of COVID

Amy Wright works in the Maternal Child Services department at MercyOne in Dubuque. On Dec. 18, Wright was able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. She said the past nine months of working in healthcare has been a whirlwind and foresees an “alternative normal” going into 2021. (Photo submitted)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     As the COVID-19 pandemic started to emerge in Iowa in mid-March, Amy Wright of Monticello was visiting her oldest son who’s serving in the Marines in South Carolina.

     “Even travel then was different, slightly nerve-wracking as I saw on the news what was occurring in New York at that time,” recalled Wright.

     That was March 13.

     Since then, Wright documented on her Facebook page the fact that she’s experienced nine months of sleepless nights, nine months of running to the thermometer every time she felt warm or fearful that she’d contracted COVID, nine months of worrying about her family and staff.

     You see, Wright works as the director of Maternal Child Services at MercyOne Dubuque. She was among some of the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18.

     “I received an e-mail the evening of Dec. 17 that it was my turn to schedule my appointment to get it (the vaccine),” shared Wright. “I had the next day off so it was the perfect time to go and get it done right away in the morning.”

     Wright said she cried upon receiving that e-mail.

     “It brought such a sense of hope, a sense that science is winning this battle, a sense of peace,” she described.

     MercyOne determined that staff would be split into phases when it came to the order of who would receive the vaccine.

     “The in-patient/patient care units got them in the first phase,” explained Wright.

     She was among the staff who received it on just the second day the vaccine was administered at MercyOne.

     “It was liberating,” Wright said of getting the vaccine. “It gave me a feeling of winning a battle that has been an exhausting nine months for all healthcare workers.”

     Eight hours following her first dose of the vaccine (two doses are required of the vaccine), Wright noticed her arm became very sore.

     “It was much like getting the tetanus shot but more,” she said of the soreness.

     Then, the evening of, she grew quite tired, almost dizzy.

     “By the next morning, these symptoms had subsided and I felt fine,” she recalled.

     Wright is scheduled to receive the second dose on Jan. 8.

     Upon Wright’s arrival back home from her South Carolina trip, she was instantly thrown into non-stop meetings at work regarding the pandemic. She began creating policies and procedures for her unit. Of the tedious task, Wright said, “So much was changing by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Everything I completed had to be re-thought out, redone on a continuous basis.”

     As the pandemic progressed and numbers started to increase, Wright said work meetings went virtual, visitors were restricted to access of the hospital, and it seemed to be bare bones in terms of the number of people actually working in the hospital.

     “Anyone who could work from home was,” she said.

     Then, a stunning scene appeared outside the ED (emergency department) one day: a giant white tent was erected to prepare for an influx of COVID patients.

     “We waited for the shoe to drop,” said Wright. “That was probably one of the hardest things, waiting.”

     The increase was gradual at first. Wright added, “But when the surge occurred, boy did it!”

     Wright’s staff members in her department were pulled to assist on other floors, including the COVID unit at MercyOne.

     “They were ‘human alarms’ to ensure patients were keeping their oxygen on. They sat at the doors and entrances and screened staff and others coming in to ensure they were asymptomatic.”

     Then the COVID policies Wright put together early on were put to the test when her department started seeing COVID-positive expectant mothers coming in to deliver their babies, not to mention positive pediatric patients, too.

     “Throughout the hospital, they were having to flex our units to the needs of the surge,” Wright said.

     For example, COVID patients required negative pressure rooms, but could not be put with other patients to prevent cross contamination. With a limited number of built-in rooms available, fans and other equipment was brought in to create those negative pressurized rooms.

     “If you step outside of the hospital today, you can hear the constant hum of the negative pressure room fans, and you can see them protruding from the windows.”

     No matter which department you worked in at MercyOne, Wright said you felt the impact of the pandemic, herself included.

     “I would say we are mentally and emotionally spent from the pandemic,” she expressed. In conversations with her staff, they were giving themselves pep talks on the way to work in the morning and praying on the way back home that they weren’t bringing the virus home to their loved ones every day.

     “One of (my staff members) said she had to learn to be ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’ these past nine months,” shared Wright. “That is probably the best way one could sum it up.”

     Despite the vaccine being rolled out nationwide (and worldwide now), Wright is still advocating for PPE in terms of continuing to wear facemasks, social distance, and use hand sanitizer.

     “Possibly even until the end of 2021,” she said. “Immunizing the general public is an enormous undertaking for the facilities that will be doing it, and we will still have some who choose not to or can’t vaccinate.

     As a nurse and continuing to be around COVID patients, Wright said she feels safe due to the amount of PPE she’s required to wear. She changes her clothes and showers after her shift at work, so as to prevent any chance of bringing the virus home to her husband and kids.

     Anticipating the virus hanging on throughout 2021, Wright said the long-term effects of COVID-19 are largely unknown.

     “I think we will see the ramifications of this virus from a healthcare perspective for quite a while.”

     She said she tries to refrain from using the word “normal” or the phrase “new normal.”

     “I don’t think the ‘normal’ we had on March 12, 2020 will ever return. Instead, we will have an alternative ‘normal.’ Healthcare will forever be changed due to COVID-19.”

     Wright sees her job as her mission in life.

     “Being a nurse is a calling, and part of that calling is to care for the sick in their greatest time of need.”


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