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They work tirelessly every shift, every day. Most never anticipated living through a pandemic and yet, their roles at IU Health are more valuable than ever as patients face the holidays without family members by their bedside.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
On the fourth floor of IU Health University Hospital, transplant nurse Chelsea Holmes brushes and braids Brenda Baker’s hair.
It’s Thanksgiving Day and Baker is recovering from a liver transplant. She has been hospitalized for 21 days. She hoped to be home for the holidays, but a family member was diagnosed with COVID and unable to care for her.
“It’s been hard being away from family, but these nurses have become my family,” said Baker. “It’s the little things that make a difference like braiding my hair and getting me a Sprite,” she said as she smiles at her transplant nurse. Holmes started her career at IU Health two years ago and said she is where she needs to be on this holiday.
In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, hospital administrators have implemented a no visitor rule. And health care officials are encouraging families to refrain from celebrating the holidays with large groups or people who live outside their home. As the number of COVID patients continues to rise, health care professionals are stretched, and yet they continue to give it their all.
In the medical intensive care unit nurses Chelsea Hummel and Audra Smallwood don protective gear to check in on a patient diagnosed with COVID. Outside the hospital, Smallwood is preparing for a spring wedding, Hummel cares for her 22-month-old.
“When I’m here, I’m here 100 percent because I realize how important family is for the patients,” said Hummel.
Across the hall in Medical Progressive Care, charge nurse Marianne Hurley also dons protective gear as she enters the room of another patient with COVID. Hurley, who is the mother of three children including, a 5-year-old, and 3-year-old twins, has postponed her holiday meal a week so she can be at the bedside of patients.
In another part of the hospital, Alma Smith, a cook in nutrition and dietetics is stacking trays filled with stuffing. A 34-year employee of IU Health, Smith said she works most holidays. Her supervisor Jeffrey Jones said prepping for the traditional holiday meal started a day early. IU Health University Hospital staff cooked 25 turkeys and 20 hams to feed 350 patients a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The menu also included sweet potatoes, broccoli & cauliflower, pumpkin pie and pumpkin pudding. They will do it all again next month. “The holidays are like every day for us,” said Jones. “We’re here for the patients and that means giving it your all.”
On the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, patient Peter Johnson, the father of six, is missing his family. The physical education teacher passes the time lifting weights. He enjoys the break, talking to his caregivers. Mark Atkinson has worked at IU Health since July – the same month Johnson was diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma. During his CAR-T gene therapy, Johnson said he has been thankful to the nurses for the “little things,” like heat packs to warm his chilling body, and just the opportunity to visit with someone.
In another part of the hospital, team members quietly work behind-the-scenes – all in the name of patient care. Sade Poole, an environmental services employee cleans and disinfects the employee locker room. Police Officer Chris Farish, a 33-year employee of IU Health joins Bradley Szabo, a two-year employee. They oversee the hospital lobby of IU Health Simon Cancer Center. “With visitor restrictions, it’s tough for families. We’re here to protect and keep everyone safe,” said Farish.
Three floors up in Simon Cancer Center, patient care assistant Qiana Tucker helps patient Cynthia Noe walk the hallway. Noe was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and has been hospitalized for 17 days. She misses her husband but says she is grateful for the help she receives following a stem cell transplant.
As they walk, Tucker says: “I was working in a manufacturing job and I was not tapping into my true purpose. Ever since I became and certified nursing assistant I have found my purpose. It is so important to me to help patients with cancer know that they are not walking alone. The holidays are part of that care. I’m here for them because they need me.”