In her first year as an RN, bachelor of nursing alumnus Sabrina Manahan confronted COVID-19 when she prepped a patient for the ventilator.
“I held his hand and cried with him as he said goodbye to his wife, not knowing if it would be his last,” says Sabrina, who is now in Ball State’s online master’s in nursing. “He made us promise to do everything possible to save him.”
These were the early days of the pandemic. Like other hospitals, her hospital was beginning to isolate cases with COVID from other patients.
Begins Search for Master’s Degree
Meanwhile, Sabrina was comparing graduate nursing programs.
Easy choice. Except for clinicals, her alma mater’s master’s in nursing was online. She knew the professors. She knew the staff. Class time and study time would fit around her work schedule. Online study decreased the risks of students spreading the virus among classmates. And she could pursue a concentration leading to a family nurse practitioner’s license.
“I chose this concentration so that I will be able to treat the general population rather than a smaller demographic in which I work with now,” she says, referring to her present position in ICU. “I have always wanted to work in a small family clinic.”
Treats COVID Patients Every Day
Today Sabrina works at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana.
“I am working with COVID-positive patients on a daily basis, so it was nice that I’d not have to worry about time from school if I were to need tested—or if I were COVID-positive,” she says.
Treating COVID-positive patients isn’t quite as harrowing as it was during her first year as an RN, says Sabrina.
“To Others This Was Pure Terror”
“We had a whole floor designated for COVID patients, and every day you were randomly assigned to either work on the trauma unit or the COVID unit,” she says. “To some, this was no issue, but to others this was pure terror.”
Many nurses questioned giving COVID patient care when the risks were still unknown, says Sabrina. They watched experienced RNs cry when they huddled from fear and lack of information.
Nursing staff were receiving updated guidelines—daily—from the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization which triggered changes in procedures.
Constant Battle to Keep Up
“It seemed to be a constant battle with new surges of infection that we had to keep up with to make sure we had enough beds, supplies, and staff to manage the great increase in patients,” she says.
Sabrina was one of few who volunteered to work the COVID floor.
“I was able to volunteer with less fear than others because in the beginning it was mainly affecting people in their 40s and above,” she says. “I was only 24 years old so I figured it would be safer for me to go to our COVID unit than my coworkers in their 40s and 50s.”
Not that she’ll ever forget that first step inside a COVID patient’s room.
Says She Was Shaking as She Put on PPE
“I remember I was shaking as I put on my PPE,” says Sabrina, referring to the personal protective equipment worn by health-care workers. “It was a lot of stress knowing that if you didn’t wear everything correctly or take it off correctly that you could risk spreading or contracting the virus.”
“The most sobering aspect for me was having to hold up an iPad for family members to say goodbye to their loved ones,” says Sabrina. “I could never imagine not being able to be there with a loved one while they passed, and I was having people do it every day. I still get angry thinking about it to this day.”
Pandemic Impact Considered in Grad Class
The impact of the pandemic has found its way into her graduate classes, she says.
“We have discussed the pathophysiology of coronavirus and how it has impacted health care,” she says. “We discuss how the pandemic has greatly advanced telehealth and the way people access health care.”
Connie McIntosh, associate professor of nursing, learned Sabrina’s and other students’ stories when they were in her nursing information technology class. “Being able to balance graduate work with a full-time professional nursing role is not easy,” says Connie. “Being able to do it during a pandemic is heroic-like.”