Mary Carter was crossing the Delaware Bay on the Cape May Lewes Ferry when she learned Delaware was going into lockdown. It was March of 2020 and the retired nurse was en route to her new home in Kent County. Moving day was memorable for Carter — the COVID shutdowns meant her new furniture and other items wouldn’t arrive on time.
What did eventually show up on her doorstep was the recruiting director for Bayhealth’s Kent Campus with a special request — Carter’s expertise was needed to help Delawareans suffering from COVID-19. Carter jumped at the chance to get back to work and braced for the unknown. “We prepped for Ebola, we prepped for SARS and H1N1, and nothing ever came to fruition for what we thought it would be. So, I think in this case, we never thought it would be this bad,” says Carter. Carter’s first job was to chat with sick Delawareans over the phone — advising them on how to treat COVID and what to expect from the virus.
Other nurses at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, were busy planning for the expected surge in patients. Gina Collins is a senior nurse manager at Bayhealth.
“It wasn’t just the fear of contracting COVID, but the fear of not having enough resources to handle what was about to happen.”
As the crisis deepened last spring, Collins worked hard to make sure her staff could treat the large number of patients needing dialysis.
“COVID also was impacting kidneys. Every COVID patient that went into the ICU ended up on dialysis. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. We came up with a surge plan. If the numbers had reached what some experts feared, we would not have had enough equipment to dialyze all the patients and tough choices would have had to been made,” says Collins.
As Delaware faced a second surge of coronavirus cases in January, Collins was placed in charge of Bayheath’s new monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) clinic. Carter joined nurse Brianna Trice in providing four-hour treatments to Delawareans suffering from mild to moderate COVID-19. The goal of the mAbs treatment was to reduce the severity of the symptoms, preventing hospitalization. “We’ve had multiple people come in with a horrible COVID headache or no sense of taste, and they would finally get some relief after treatments. It’s been amazing what we’ve seen,”
Carter and Trice treated 20 patients a week at the height of the second surge. Their work was important and may have saved lives. According to Carter, “I could have stayed retired and if they had wanted to bring me back doing some paper-pusher job, I would have been out of here. But for this, I go home every day knowing I did something good.”
Carter, Collins and Trice are now treating significantly fewer COVID patients than they did during the winter months. The quick rollout of vaccines has led to a dramatic drop in the number of new infections. “It was just a whole different world to work in. Since the vaccine came out, it has been less stressful for us,” says Trice.
Collins said medical professionals learned a lot during the pandemic and hospitals will be much better prepared should another pandemic sweep across the country. The trepidation nurses like Collins felt during the start of the pandemic has been replaced with hope. There is also renewed appreciation for the difficult job that nurses face, even before the world heard of COVID-19. “Nurses are awesome. I think the perception has changed. Everyone has been so nice and so thankful, and it makes it all so worthwhile. They thank you a million times for what you did,” says Carter. “A lot of people have been so grateful. We’ve met 200 people doing this and they are so appreciative,” says Trice.
While the world owes nurses a great deal of gratitude, Collins says workers in so many fields deserve a huge thank you for their grit during a difficult 16 months. “I think everyone, not just nurses, has stepped up; truck drivers, the folks working at the pharmacy. People stepped up and they didn’t stop doing what they were doing because of fear. I really think this brought out the best in people, they came together to do what was right.”