May 6 marks National Nurses Day and the beginning of National Nurses Week. Nurses are on the front line, and they were there when Southwest Florida went through several waves of COVID-19.
The nurses are there now, treating people with COVID-19, even with Lee Health reporting only 28 patients with COVID-19.
The healthcare system says its numbers are consistent over the last month, never caring for more than 30 patients with the virus.
WINK News asked Gulf Coast Medical Center ICU Nurse Supervisor Betsy Groendyk if they feel like they are out of the woods.
Betsy Groendyk said anyone who is honest would say there’s still a little fear.
O the 28 COVID-19 patients Lee Health is caring for, only one is in intensive care. That’s the turnaround these men and women prayed for and worked toward for a very long time.
In March 2020, COVID-19 hit Lee County.
“I remember that was March Fourth, 2020,” said Groendyk.
More than two years later, she still thinks about that first day and her very first patients.
“It was a husband-and-wife pair. And we all were really afraid at that point because nobody knew anything,” said Groendyk.
What Groendyk knows now is that her team is strong. As the country recognizes National Nurses Day on May 6 and National Nurses Week from May 6 through May 12, Groendyk wants to acknowledge her team of nurses.
During the pandemic, some nurses quit, and others got burned out, but not all of them.
“We’re a lot more resilient than people may have thought. There are so many of our core staff who have stuck with us through this entire pandemic and they’re still smiling. They come into work with a happy face,” said Groendyk.
Groendyk said those nurses came to work with their own grief on some of those days.
“It was, it’s difficult when you see the worst of it, and you’re watching people struggle for their lives on a daily basis. And then you find out that somebody in your family has it. I lost a family member to COVID,” Groendyk said.
She wasn’t the only one, but they still showed up and saved many lives.
That husband-and-wife pair from the first day, March 4, 2020; the wife did not make it, but her husband did.
Groendyk said her proudest moment was watching him place flowers in his wife’s honor.
“It was really exciting to see him up and walking and talking and after as sick as he had been, to see him doing so well was really encouraging,” said Groendyk.
That moment still encourages her team to this day.
Now that COVID-19 has calmed down, the ICU team of nurses and doctors I back to treating patients in need of all types of critical care. Many families are grateful for their work on National Nurses Day and every other day.
There was so much appreciation for our doctors and nurses. They were honored with helicopter flyovers, banners, flags, and even cop cars in the shape of hearts.
“The way that healthcare workers are treated by certain people, families, patients, many of them are wonderful. But we have noticed, I think, just the overall stress level for people has been higher. And it impacts the way we’re treated,” said Groendyk.
She said day by day, variant by variant, the work got harder, people got angrier and the appreciation faded.
No matter how her team was treated, Groendyk said her team always treated their patients to the best of their ability.
The moments that stick out the most for her, “Boy, the ones that I can think of are kind of tragic. But they’re also I think it shows the heart of the nursing staff as well,” said Groendyk.
She still thinks about how her nurses held their patients’ hands as they died, and brought their families to them on iPads.
There was a board in each patient’s room called “My story.”
“When we know things about people, we write it on there and can really identify them with that person. If they’re awake, we can talk to him and tell him you know, we tried to even just go in there and tell them what their family has been saying or talk to him about that,” Groendyk said.
Even though they’re through the worst of COVID, the memories linger, but Groendyk said these moments made her stronger.