414 Heroes: An ER Nurse Is Thankful for Letters From the Community

“This whole thing has brought out the best in many people, especially my wonderful night shift team in the ER.”


Photo courtesy of Anne Lindfors

In school, I loved biology and anatomy, but I also really liked psychology, and talking with people. So nursing was a natural for me because it combines both of those things. I like to say nursing is where healthcare meets the patient, where people are at.

Just before the pandemic hit, we were very busy coming out of flu season. When it hit, the first few weeks were very stressful because of how quickly everything was happening. Every day we had to figure out a new game plan. 

Things were crazy as a nation, too. The CDC guidelines evolved quickly, and “best practices” changed almost every day. Everyone was trying to play catch-up. We all had to work together to stay updated.

The hospital did a good job of developing a plan, which was postponing non-urgent procedures and surgeries. That helped hugely, because we were able to open up those rooms. It expedited people getting to where they were supposed to go. Now, as employees, we have access to the COVID Resource Center through Ascension, which posts best practices from the CDC and OSHA.

In early March, we also created what we call “COVID Corner” at the hospital to quickly get people who had COVID symptoms tested. We’ve upped our PPE, too. First we used regular masks, then N95s, then goggles or face shields. Scrub caps don’t look great, but at least you don’t have to worry about your hair. Turquoise is my favorite color. Conveniently, 3M makes an N95 to match my outfit. That’s a minor positive in all of this.

In the last few weeks, things have slowed down, so we’re letting people know yes, we’re still open for chest pain, stroke, etc. Unfortunately, in our Milwaukee population, we have a lot of people with comorbidity, that is, heart or lung problems, which puts them more at risk for the virus. But people are protesting and not using social distancing as they should. We’re acutely aware that if we are not slow and methodical about opening things up, we could have another big wave.

This whole thing has brought out the best in many people, especially my wonderful night shift team in the ER. A lot of us were cross training with ICU, picking up shifts, being runners to help each other out. We’re all in this together, and we have to figure it out and learn from each other. We have each other’s backs.

The community outreach has been humbling and wonderful. So many meals have been delivered! And although we often get letters from people thanking us for saving them or a family member, last week one guy wrote, “Hey! I just want you to know that you’re in danger doing this hard work, and we really appreciate you.” I was almost in tears as I read it. I keep this picture of the thank-you notes written by neighborhood kids on my phone to help me decompress after a bad day. The spelling errors make them that much more endearing.

– As told to Carolyn Kott Washburne