Saluting Local Health Care Workers on the Frontlines Fighting COVID-19

Photography Provided

COVID-19It wasn’t until this spring when COVID-19, an insidious, highly contagious disease, swiftly and jarringly upended our routines, our lives, our families and our world that our definition of “hero” was sharply redefined. Suddenly we looked to doctors, nurses, hospital staff, first responders and emergency personnel with fresh eyes of gratitude and a renewed sense of awe as we recognized the grand and personal sacrifices they were making, daily, for the sake of their communities.

We are grateful to our hometown heroes in a way that perhaps we never have been in our lifetime because we know the blood, sweat and tears that these men and women have shed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept through our country, leaving confusion, uncertainly, and blind fear in its wake. As schools, churches, restaurants, hair salons, gyms, movie theaters, shopping malls and other businesses shut down, those on the frontlines never stopped working. In fact, many put in overtime, both physically and mentally, to ensure the safety of their fellow man.

This strange and surreal experience has brought many lessons, the greatest of which is that we have heroes living among us. And for that, we are all eternally grateful. Therefore, we wanted to take this opportunity to thank these beautiful people for their ceaseless sacrifice, unwavering commitment to serve and boundless love of humankind throughout this COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Brenna Lee, PA with the Johnson Memorial Health (JMH) Emergency Department (ED), everyone has stepped up to adapt to changes that are occurring daily.

“The front-line health care workers are getting a lot of praise, but it truly takes an extensive team — from environmental service workers, respiratory therapists, the lab and radiology department, administration, security guards, pharmacy staff, and the list goes on,” says Lee, who decided at a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in health care by watching her grandmother work in the ED. Though Lee says she went into medicine to be able to help people during their most vulnerable time, recently the paradigm has shifted, leaving health care workers feeling extremely vulnerable themselves.

“We are dealing with something we never expected. With increased protocols, social distancing and a general sense of uneasiness, I feel challenged daily,” Lee adds. “My coworkers are some of the most amazing people I know, and I’m so lucky to have them by my side to help ease the fears, show up daily and care for our patients with confidence and compassion.”

Dave Van Remortel, Immediate Care Center/Occupational Health at JMH, has also noticed how difficult times like these can bring out the true goodness in people.

“I value the ‘yes’ culture in that when a request is made of you, say ‘yes’ and figure it out rather than finding reasons why you cannot or should not help,” Van Remortel says. “During this pandemic, people are saying ‘yes’ and that’s awesome. My hope is that many of the values that are learned during this pandemic do not fade.”   

COVID-19Ryan S. White M.D., M.S. ED Medical Director, Emergency Medical Services Medical Director, Medicine Chairman at JMH ED, maintains that COVID-19 has sparked a renewed awareness and enthusiasm for what it means to be a health care provider committed to the wellbeing and safety of people.

“It has breathed life back into what drove us here to begin with — caring for the patient,” says White, noting that a silver lining to the pandemic is the rebirth of the intimate and trusting relationship between health care provider and patient. “Shortly after the first cases of COVID-19 hit Johnson County and Franklin, I had the pleasure of witnessing our community go the extra mile to show their appreciation to the doctors, nurses and supporting health care staff.”

In addition, the Johnson County community has showered the staff with warm sentiments, cards, masks and hats, homemade treats and meals.

“Most may not realize that we very seldom stop to eat when on shift in the ED. Most either skip eating or grab a quick snack while at their station,” White says. “When food is sent to the ED, it gives us a reason to take a few minutes away from all the chaos to sit in peace and enjoy.”

When the world looks back on 2020, White imagines it will be the year we recall sitting with our families without distraction and really listening, playing games and meaningfully connecting in a sincere and completely connected sense.

“I will remember 2020 as the year society was forced, by some fate of irony, to reevaluate and reset our values,” White adds.

And that’s good because perspective can be eye-opening.

Michelle Bisesi RN MSN, Director of COVID 19 Unit at JMH, says that in her 42 years of nursing, she has never experienced the heartbreak of having to see her patients die without their loved ones present. And watching families tell their loved ones goodbye via Skype will be something she says she’ll never forget.

“I’ve seen staff cry who never cry,” she says. “But I’ve also seen staff step in and be that person who holds their patient’s hand when they pass so they won’t be alone. So for those families who have lost someone they love and couldn’t be with them, you can know that a nurse was there crying over them for you. We’ve had families write to us telling us how grateful they are to have someone there for their mom, dad or grandparent. How can you ever forget that kind of love expressed?”

Thankfully, Bisesi and her colleagues take comfort in knowing this COVID-19 situation won’t last forever.

“[On my way] to work one morning, I realized that my normal had changed. And that many of the things that mattered so much yesterday were not as important today,” Bisesi says. “But as I drove to work, the sun was coming up and downtown Franklin that I love so much looked golden. For a minute, my life felt normal, and this COVID-19 virus didn’t seem real to me. But then I pulled into the hospital parking lot and put on my N95 mask and got ready to fight a battle that we can’t see. After 10 hours, I drove home with the windows down and the breeze blowing in and I felt normal again.”

She contends the importance of paying attention to the normal moments so as to not get lost in the scary.

“We have to stay focused on the beautiful,” she says. “We’re noticing [it] more now because [in the past] we’ve taken it for granted.”

When every day brings a new series of harrowing headlines, it can be easy to slip into sadness or flounder in fear. But I assure you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel thanks to this army of men and women as they are the heartbeat of hope that now, always has, and always will work tirelessly to relieve pain, save lives and restore health. These individuals dedicate their lives to helping us, as a society, live our best lives. Because as the saying goes, “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters.”

Thank you to all our health care heroes for what you do each day!

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