On the job with: A COVID unit nurse

Karina Brown
Karina Brown, a registered nurse and nurse educator at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee.

Karina Brown, a registered nurse and nurse educator at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis for the past three months. BizTimes associate editor Lauren Anderson recently spoke with Brown about her experience as a COVID-19 unit nurse.

What does a typical shift look like for you on the COVID unit?

“I’m a nurse educator, so I make sure the team has masks, eye shields or goggles. I make sure they are putting on their gear appropriately. I check both sides (the COVID side of the unit and non-COVID side), and help with pretty much anything they need help with. I help Zoom with patients who haven’t talked to their family members. I help set up Zoom meetings for patients and doctors. I help with feeding patients, and help patients who are at the end of life, making sure they transition without being alone. That’s a new role. I’ve never done that before.”

How do you care for patients who are isolated like that?

“We had to learn quickly so it was … listening to patients and trying to put yourself in their shoes. If I was here by myself, what would I want people to do? As a nurse, you can’t go in the room as often as someone without COVID. … You want limited exposure, so it’s learning how to maximize your time. … You learn what they’re interested in so next time you have topics to talk about. Or you bring in something special. One patient we had loved Starbucks banana bread, so twice a week someone would bring it in for her. She was (COVID-19) positive and in hospice and ended up being discharged, and we gave her a (Starbucks) gift card. You really get to know (your patients), and you maximize the time while you’re in there so they don’t feel alone.”

How has your job impacted your family?

“In the beginning, I didn’t know how this was going to play out. All we had was the news stories and seeing how traumatic it was, so my husband and kids stayed with my mother-in-law for a month and a half. I didn’t see my kids or husband for a month and a half. A lot of us made a choice to separate ourselves because we didn’t know how this was going to play out for us and we wanted to keep our families safe. It was hard. It was lonely. My kids didn’t understand. Not only was school canceled, they were separated from family.”

Are you back with your kids and husband now?

“Yes, my children and husband are back home. We’re balancing that out, figuring out how (to be safe), like changing clothes before you get home, hopping in the shower as soon as you get home and then having family time, which is now so much more important. You take things for granted before COVID, and now you realize how important it is.”

How prepared did you feel to care for patients during a pandemic?

“I never thought that I would be working through a pandemic. … But we’re learning, reading, paying attention. Here at Sinai, we’re updated constantly and we check that all the time to have up-to-date practices. We’re being resilient and not complaining. There have been concerns about N95 masks, but we’ve never had a shortage of masks and we’ve never had a gown shortage. As a team the nursing staff developed a system so we can preserve our PPE. So if it spiked, we have it.

“My message for family and friends is, even though we’re opening back up, continue to wear your mask, continue to practice social distancing. If you don’t need to be there, don’t go. Coronavirus is still here and we all want to be safe.”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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