COLLABORATION and togetherness are what drive our teams to tackle every day challenges. No one could have predicted the challenge that ended up at EvergreenHealth’s front door. Two ICU nurses, Rick and Stephanie, share their story on how they have collaborated in a time of COVID-19.

“On a day that started like any other, we kissed our loved ones goodbye, caffeinated on the way into work, and jumped into the bustling morning routine that is the ICU. Continuously evaluating patients, coordinating with other departments for procedures and scans, discussing plans of care with doctors, and the myriad of tasks, skills and responsibilities that make up an ICU Shift.

That morning COVID-19 felt thousands of miles away, by midday it would take our lives hostage. A patient with unexplained respiratory symptoms would be tested for COVID-19, their condition declined rapidly, and despite our best efforts, we were unable to save them. That patient would later test positive for COVID-19. It would be the first known COVID-19 death in the United States.

The coming days were a blur of emotion and uncertainty. Gone were the visitors, ancillary staff and usual traffic of technicians and roaming administrators. Individuals disappeared behind masks, protective gowns and hairnets. The unit was moved to negative pressure to prevent the spread of the virus. Working behind closed doors, we began to write backwards on the glass walls to send messages for help or supplies. Some staff began to get ill and were quarantined, they anxiously awaited their test results, worried they may have contracted the virus and paralyzed by the fear that had already exposed others. We were facing staffing shortages and stretched thin emotionally and physically. Our managers and nursing director worked day and night taking patients, acting as charge nurse, and acquiring much needed supplies.

This all started less than two months ago, but it might as well have been a year, or two or five years ago. We work, we sleep, and we try to recover. Then we do it again and again and again. There are no escapes to dinner with friends or family. No spontaneous trips to Pike Place Market or coffee dates. We work, we sleep, we try to recover. We work as hard as we can for our patients, their families, our community and each other.

Many nurses report having nightmares, or the inability to sleep altogether. Our families notice that our evenings are quieter now. We seem distant as we attempt to sort through feelings we can’t express. There is no leaving work at work. When at home we worry over the people we cared for. We worry about each other. We don’t feel like heroes. We feel inadequate, exhausted and acutely aware of our humanity.

We are a community hospital. We have taken care of friends and neighbors. We have taken care of coworkers and their families. As we show up each day to care for our community, our community has shown up each day to care for us. The outpouring of support in the form of letters, meals, and care packages has kept our hearts and bodies fueled. We feel the weight, responsibility and desire to help spare as many lives as possible. Perhaps worst of all, we hear the pain and desperation over phone calls and video chats that often end in tears of sadness and heartfelt thank-you’s.

But times of hardship and struggle can also reveal untapped strength. We should be proud of what we as a community and a hospital have created. We have a hospital with a resiliency and toughness in its veins that spiderwebs from floor to floor. As the first response to COVID-19 in the U.S., we have emerged bruised but still standing; ready and willing to continue this fight to its conclusion.”

-Rick Bjurstrom & Stephanie Sears, ICU RN’s

RN, Rick Bjurstom