This month, May 2020, marks the first annual National Nurses Month as designated by the American Nurses Association. For the first time this year, the celebration shifted from a week of appreciation to an entire month, and for good cause. Nurses are our modern-day superheroes. Sure, this may be a phrase heard often, but really let it sink in. Nurses this day and age truly are on the frontlines. As the world experiences one of the most life-changing pandemics of our time, we have nurses to thank for keeping us healthy, calm, and cared for amid uncertain days ahead.
As the month of celebration continues, we thought it appropriate to highlight the work of a local nurse. Meet Fred Lyon, a registered nurse who works at two of the large hospitals in Temple. He focuses his time in the Adult Intensive Care Unit (ICU), what can now be referred to as a war zone for the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19. Fred is right there, in the hospitals of Central Texas suited up to go into battle on behalf of the patients experiencing the virus and fighting for their lives.
“Right now, things are much more hectic than normal,” shares Fred. “The ICU prides itself on being regimented and structured. ER [Emergency Room] nurses thrive in chaos, but the ICU thrives on structure and routine.
“With COVID-19, processes, procedures, protocols are constantly changing. This is very unique for an ICU environment. Days are hectic.
“Thankfully, we have not experienced a surge. But with the state reopening, we do not know what is going to happen. At any point, we could get a large influx of COVID-19 patients.”
One of the hospitals in Temple where Fred works has an 18-bed ICU. The floor has recently been converted to 26 beds to hold more COVID-19 patients. The hospital setting can now accommodate a mix of ICU patients, those who need ventilation, and acute care patients, who do not require ventilation but are too sick to go home with the virus. This has been seen across the state as hospitals try to prepare for the influx of COVID-19-afflicted patients.
Both hospitals where Fred works have also made incredible strides to reduce the spread of COVID-19 with negative pressure pods that release the air back into the room so as not let virus particles spread in other areas of the hospital.
“Temple’s hospital systems are prepared to increase capacity dramatically. Luckily, we haven’t needed that,” says Fred. “The last time I worked, there were only three COVID-19 patients. It would be ideal to see it stay that way.”
But, being a nurse, Fred knows the reality that things could shift quickly and when they do, he will be ready. That is the true resilience of those in the profession. Take for instance, the quick shifts that have already taken place to accommodate the virus. Those in the service of patient care do not give up. They adjust quickly.
“On the COVID-19 floor, there are a lot more protocols on how to care for patients,” says Fred. “Negative pressure is in place for protection. We practice ‘donning and doffing’ constantly to train ourselves on the proper order that you put on the gown and the order that you take it off. Touching your scrub top on accident could lead to exposure of the virus.
“Day-to-day activities that were once simple have become much more complicated. For instance, handling cardiac arrest in a COVID-19 unit now requires more protocols, and a limited number of team members. We do extensive training to be prepared when the time comes.
“Any time you are doing something different, you need practice. The nurses and doctors in the hospitals are practicing just about every morning to stay on top of the latest protocols. We started a system of ‘buddy nursing’ to limit the number of times a medical worker ‘dons and doffs,’ or removes his or her personal protective equipment (PPE). When you need supplies, your buddy nurse is there. Handling of basic patient needs require more assistance. Patient care has not suffered because nurses are adjusting.”
“Patient care has not suffered because nurses are adjusting.”
When asked how nurses protect themselves and each other while working, Fred explains the numerous protocols and procedures in place. There are drills on how to accept a patient into the unit, how many people need to interact with the contagion. The use of respirators has been critical in the ICU. But it does make communication difficult.
“Just being able to ask for supplies, sometimes you have to yell it to your buddy nurse. The simple things are so hard. Chest compressions with a respirator are very difficult. We find it more difficult to breathe in the respirator masks.
“But we wear them to protect each other and ourselves. I have a family. My fellow nurses have families. We are all in this together. And hospital leaders are in constant communication with others in the fight, around the nation for best practices for procedures. New York and other areas who have been hit harder by the virus have helped to set an example.
“We are all in this together.”
“Quarantining was not designed to beat the virus, but to handle a potential surge,” reminds Fred.
When asked how he got into the field of nursing, Fred shared that his wife, who was studying to become a physician’s assistant (PA), would come home and tell him about the incredible nurses she worked with daily.
“Growing up, I had no medical background,” Fred shares. “I thought of nurses as anyone else did, until I discovered the breadth within the field. I had no idea there are so many roles to play and so many jobs one can have as a nurse—industries such as IT, pharmaceuticals, even insurance employ nurses.
“The opportunities that a nursing degree affords you are abounding. That was why I originally pursued the field. I was a little bit of a late bloomer. I graduated nursing school when I was 34-years-old after attending Texas Tech Nursing School. I knew I eventually wanted to transition to bedside care.
“After getting some experience under my belt, I was drawn to the ICU. They take the most ill patients with the most interesting cases and I always wanted to learn the ‘why’ of what was happening with my patients. In other departments of nursing, one does not always get to know why someone is sick, or if the drugs are working. In the ICU, you meet patients with rare, life-changing diseases.
“I get to talk to the doctors and speak to the residents. Sometimes the physicians and nurses are learning about issues together. I am exposed to very rare patient cases every time I go into work. I am always learning something new.”
Along the way, Fred learned the value of a nurse to the patient and the patient’s family. Many times in ICU settings, there is a team of doctors evaluating the case. This can sometimes create distance between the doctor and patient. But being a nurse means you are there for the post-evaluation, on the journey with the critical care patient, every step of the way.
“The emotional support needed for patients can be the most challenging part of my job,” says Fred. “You struggle because you want to be a beacon of hope—want to maintain hope. You find the happy medium to give hope, but to also how to be realistic. In the ICU, someone’s family member may not live or may not be the same person the family knows and loves when ready to go home.
“I wish I had a good answer for people, I really do. I always say, ‘you are in my prayers. Remember, all the good parts and the happy moments that you had with your loved one.’
“I think there is no magic advice, just being there and letting them speak. Let them cry on your shoulder. I know I don’t have anything life-altering to say, but I just want to be there for that person—just to be a person that is there and understands—that can sometimes make all the difference.
Fred speaks humbly as he talks about his job with such care and passion. When asked how to keep up stamina when dealing with such heavy subject matter and real-life issues, Fred shares, “A combination of things keep me going—family, coworkers, seeing my girls when I get home. Having somebody there at work who is going through what I am going through really helps.
“The community has been fantastic. At the hospital, people are walking around singing. Folks have stopped me and said, ‘thank you’ after work when I am at the grocery store. It all matters. I am really taken back when I receive the appreciation. I am just doing my job and that sort of feedback keeps me going.”
Reflecting on the recent pandemic, Fred shares, “I read the news just like everyone else. It is scary. There is always a risk and it is scary. But to see the community come together gives me hope.”
Inspiring hope for fellow nurses going through a challenging time, Fred offers, “Don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed. Make sure you are there for one another. If you are having problems emotionally, spiritually, financially, lean on one another.”
He reminds us of the importance of staying connected. He is a true hero. He is a nurse. Thank you to Fred and all the nurses out there. We are forever appreciative.