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Nurse Alumni Respond to COVID-19 Crisis

In Greater Houston Area hospitals, the effort to identify, isolate, and care for COVID-19 cases is a stressful multi-stage process. Some of UST’s nursing program alumni are filling high-risk roles at the bedside — reflecting excellent training and a bold commitment to caring for the sick. Two of those nurses share some of their thoughts and experiences below.

A Sense of Hypervigilance

Kimberly Ybanez BSN '19With her regular surgical unit closed so that Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center can direct more resources toward stopping the novel coronavirus, Kimberly Ybanez BSN ’19 is now a floater — a nurse who takes shifts wherever she is needed. Often, the wife and mother works in the hospital’s Covid rule-out unit where she feels hypervigilant.

Ybanez: “In that unit, we always treat the patient as if they’re positive even when we don’t know yet. We’re constantly on guard.”

Tamara Esparza BSN ’17 understands the heightened sense of being on alert. She is assigned to a Covid rule-out unit at Methodist Hospital in Willowbrook where she has witnessed the bewilderingly rapid escalation of life-threatening symptoms.

Tamara Esparza BSN ’17Esparza: “One minute we had a middle-aged patient, symptomatic but getting plenty of oxygen. Then, just a few hours later, with no warning, we saw him go into major distress quickly. It was suddenly so hard for him to breathe that I observed his shoulders rising and falling as he tried to get enough air. We immediately called for critical care. They put him on a ventilator and took him to a critical unit. That experience left all of us looking at one another and asking what just happened.

Outstanding Teamwork & Emotional Support

In these Covid-focused units, nursing can become a team effort almost in the blink of an eye.

Ybanez: “While I was praying for my patient’s full recovery, I saw another nurse noticing that her patient was not his talkative self. She called for a Rapid Response Team. I took a support position right outside the room and stayed on a walkie-talkie with her, running for whatever she needed in the way of supplies. Teamwork is essential.”

Esparza: “On my floor, I work with great colleagues, and we lift one another up with a light-hearted comment, encouragement. That’s how we let each other know that this pandemic is going to be in the past one day.”

Normalizing of the Abnormal

Esparza: “It was like culture shock initially because we went to providing a different type of nursing where PPE was crucial, Star Wars-looking helmets were everywhere, it was crazy. After a while, it became normal.”

Ybanez: “At first, the additional PPE and contact isolation carts and signs on all the doors saying ‘Do not enter’ made it look like a war zone, and I felt anxious. But a week later, the unfamiliar was familiar.”

Always on the Patient’s Side

Esparza: “We get lots and lots of phone calls from family members who are not allowed to be with their loved ones in the unit. We take their love and messages to the patient. And we give updates to the family, so they’re not so scared about their mom or their grandpa. Let them know that someone is there doing everything we can to make them comfortable and take care of them.”

Ybanez: “There’s a lot of adrenaline. We’re working intensely. We’re mentally focused on tasks. But we’re also communicating with our patients — sometimes by phone because of safety precautions — doing whatever we can to keep them comfortable and promote healing. It’s a good shift when I can help a patient to lighten his or her mood a little bit and get them to hope for all the best, that things are going to get better.”

What UST Nurses Are Made Of

Ybanez: “Nursing is rewarding and hard, and it teaches you what you’re made of. I’ve become more aware of how calm and focused I can be for my patients even in the midst of chaos surrounding me. I have the right stuff to care for people who are sick. It’s my calling.”

Esparza: “I believe in God and try to keep a positive mind, knowing that I’m fulfilling my purpose in life, taking care of patients who need me.”

Where Future Nurses Study

Nursing is one of the world’s noblest and most trusted professions. Anyone interested in this vital healthcare career is encouraged to visit UST’s School of Nursing.