PITTSBURGH, PA (KDKA) – As the coronavirus pandemic continues, frontline nurses have now spent days away from their own families to take care of dozens of patients.
At West Penn Hospital, there are fifteen nurses working in shifts in the COVID-19 unit.
“It wasn’t an easy task at first to set up the unit because you needed negative room pressure so it was figuring out all those details in a short time frame,” Jessi Showalter tells KDKA.
Showalter is one of the nurses who helped get the unit up off the ground and then volunteered to work in it. She said the people she lives with were not high risk, she just had to refrain from seeing her father who typically watched her dog daily.
“Through nursing school what really got me through it was him telling me ‘someday you are going to help a lot of people,’ and what better time than in a pandemic to fulfill that,” Showalter said.
Alongside Showalter in the COVID-19 unit is Jenn Robison whose day-to-day life looks a little different. Robison tells KDKA she comes from an EMS and volunteer firefighter background.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, being on the frontlines is something I’ve always loved to do,” Robison said.
Since she has a 6-year-old son and several vulnerable family members, she has spent the last few weeks living out of a hotel room. Each morning and night, she will video chat with her son.
“I tell him he’s being so brave, he’s my hero. He is sharing his mummy and his mummy gets to help people because of that,” Robison said.
Allegheny Health Network officials said they can’t give out specific numbers on patients, but said they have been treating multiple coronavirus patients daily for the past two to three weeks at West Penn Hospital.
For these two nurses, there are some physical changes to the job as they wear layers and layers of protective equipment.
“Sweat, just so much sweat. There’s times we laugh at each other because we come out of a room and we are drenched,” Robison said.
Yet, each of them said the biggest change is being present for the intimate moments with family members on the phone that typically they wouldn’t be in the room for if visitors were allowed.
“When it comes to the deaths, it’s something we see everyday, but it’s a special case when someone isn’t surrounded by their loved ones,” Showalter said.
In particular, Showalter and Robison were both working when a COVID-19 patient was brought into the unit. Robison said she spent extra time making sure he was comfortable and keeping his family informed.
“They just reminded me so much of my family. We are all so close and would want to be there, we always had somebody so the thought of them not being able to be there ripped me to pieces. I would hold my phone in his room so that they could talk to their dad or their husband,” Robison said.
Robison even connected with the family outside the hospital on social media to put a face to the voice they talked to each day. She tells KDKA that the day he was about to die, the family contacted her to let her known since she wasn’t working.
Since she was just down the road at the hotel, she said she ran up to the hospital to be there at his bedside, holding his hand for his family.
“The one request they had was his wife asked if we could play his wedding song they danced to so we played that and that was a lot harder than I imagined,” Robison said.
Robison said she’s even talked to the family now after their loved one passed away and those connections that keep her going for each and every patient.
While they both continue to fight on the frontlines, they want their colleagues from other nurses, doctors, housekeepers, respiratory therapists and everyone in the hospitals to be recognized for their fight in this pandemic.