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Real Women, Real Stories: Pandemic Edition - Nurses on the Frontlines During COVID-19

Intro by Lisa Butler: 

For the past year and a half, our healthcare system, particularly our incredible healthcare workers, have been facing unprecedented challenges. Many of us can't fully grasp the immense difficulties they've endured, especially for those who are also juggling the responsibilities of parenthood. Mandi Maynard and her husband, both nurses on the frontlines, navigated through personal and professional hurdles during the early stages of the pandemic. We're deeply thankful that Mandi has opened up and shared her story with us and our community.

nurse on the frontlines during the pandemic
Discover the untold challenges faced by nurses on the frontlines during COVID-19. Read Mandi Maynard's personal account of navigating through the pandemic.

Her Story:

I remember watching the news in January 2020 and seeing that SARS-CoV-2, as we were calling it back then, had come to the United States. I remember commenting to my husband that this had to spread and get worse. He brushed me off, and I was far from worried. I figured it would look like previous epidemics, maybe like swine flu. We would all practice better hand hygiene and wear a mask, but business as usual. I had no idea what kind of year my family was in for.

My husband and I are nurses. My husband works in the operating room at a local hospital that does predominantly elective surgery. I work at a surgery center. Out of an abundance of caution in early February, I applied to the intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital where my husband works (my background is in critical care). I applied thinking I would never need the job. When I got the call in March offering me the job there were talks of closing surgery centers, elective surgery was being canceled all around the country, and my husband was being asked to use his vacation time because there was no need for OR nurses. Both of our jobs showed so much uncertainty. We couldn’t work from home; we had just purchased a new home of our own and were not prepared to live on one income. Looking back, we went into fight or flight mode. I accepted a weekend night job in the ICU and continued to work three 12-hour days at the surgery center. I was working five 12-hour shifts per week. My husband was offered the overnight position Monday through Thursday in the OR. We spent Friday evenings with each other and our son. I would love to say we rallied together and pushed through that time. In some ways we did, but in others we did not. We fought often, my husband was not used to watching our son all weekend alone, and I was doing bedtimes with our son alone and sleeping alone every night. We had little time together, but we were physically and mentally drained by the time Friday nights rolled around anyway. No one knew much about COVID-19, and we certainly didn’t. Were we going to bring this home to our son? Maybe each other? Was I going to carry it from the ICU to patients at my full-time job? It was so uncertain.

In the meantime, our son’s daycare had closed, so we were commuting to various locations for childcare. We were exhausted. Every evening I was studying because I had been out of the ICU for three years and felt so rusty. Each night in the ICU seemed like something from a movie. I remember my days in ICU pre-covid and the little details were so crucial in ICU patients. From the patient’s exact urine output to the breaths per minute. Now the little details didn’t seem to matter at all. It was survival mode for patients and healthcare workers alike. Patients were crashing and we didn’t know anything about this virus. I would spend nine hours in a patient’s room who had COVID-19, multiple intravenous drips (IV) drips, ventilated, and something called continuous renal replacement therapy (simply meaning even their kidneys could not function on their own, we had to do that for them), multiple tubes (foley, orogastric tube), etcetera. I was trying so hard for my patients, but I had never experienced anything like caring for covid patients before. Applying and removing personal protective equipment (PPE) alone took up so much time, and there was no one to help us with that. The goal was to conserve PPE. I had to give the best care I could while in the room, and once out of the room, stay out. That contradicts everything I had ever been taught. The best assessment is one where you are laying hands and eyes on the patient. It felt so cold. I was communicating with staff via a whiteboard and walkie-talkie. It felt so antiquated. Doctors had differing views on the best treatment for patients. It felt so confusing. The culmination of poor communication, little staff, and so little known about this virus, quite frankly, felt dangerous. After two long months, I left the ICU.

I love caring for patients. I love doing everything I can for them; however, my family will always be my number one priority. I worried about going into the ICU, mostly for my son. It was a calculated risk; we didn’t know what would happen with my husband’s job and we needed the money in case he was let go. Since November 2019, my husband and I had been trying to get pregnant. We suffered a miscarriage the summer before, and I had given up hope of getting pregnant again when COVID-19 hit. During the pandemic, we agreed to stop actively trying. We hardly had time for each other, let alone time to be intimate. God had other plans. I don’t remember the date; I remember the night though perfectly. I couldn’t sleep, working nights can do that to you. I decided to take a pregnancy test just to see, I was only a few days late. My husband wasn’t home, he was doing the night shift. I took the test thinking it was nearly impossible. But the pregnancy test had two lines. I was shocked, excited, and scared. I ended up leaving the Covid ICU at my OB’s recommendation since I was still working full-time at the surgery center as well. Going through a high-risk pregnancy during a pandemic was its own challenge that many women have had to do. Going through it as a nurse knowing many of my patients have had active covid while caring for them was an even greater challenge. I was fortunate, I remained healthy and so did my family. We delivered a healthy (early) baby the Monday after Christmas of 2020.

I could talk for hours about how fortunate I have been as a nurse. I work for an incredible group of doctors at a surgery center. I have handpicked my schedule and they truly understand that my family comes first. However, I have so many friends at hospitals that are hurting and burnt out. I see doctors and nurses who are ready to leave healthcare altogether if they haven’t already. My heart breaks for my colleagues all over who have worked tirelessly through this pandemic with little to no reprieve. I can’t speak for all nurses, but I know many are tired. We cannot work from home. Our families are at risk. Our relationships are strained. Our own health is at risk. Yet I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. I feel fortunate to care for others. I feel so grateful to go to work in person. I am grateful my son is three and has not had to deal with the challenges of virtual learning. And while ‘a little cold’ may never feel so insignificant again, I am thankful. As I reflect back it has been strenuous, sometimes more than others, but I have so much to be grateful for.


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