This week we connected with Denise Batura, ICU nurse at Harborview Medical Center. Batura has been working on the front lines of the pandemic in the Harborview COVID-19 ICU. She shares her experience caring for patients and serving families during this unprecedented time.
Q: What inspired you to become a nurse? What keeps you going?
A: I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse. I love people and caring for them. What solidified me pursuing a nursing career was working in a long term care facility and loving being around the elderly and learning about them as a person, listening to their stories and life experiences.
I have been a nurse now for 25 years, and I continue to love it. Nurses are an amazing group of people that I am proud to be a part of.
Q: Do you remember when you first heard about COVID-19? What were you thinking and feeling at that time? How did that change as the weeks progressed?
A: When I first heard of COVID-19 it was early February. To be honest I was not that concerned about it. I remember when there was the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014. Harborview had a plan in place with a team of nurses, respiratory therapies and doctors to care for them. I think our hospital had one Ebola case or rule out. Nothing catastrophic.
I had been planning several ski vacations, one to Colorado in February and the other to Banff in Canada early March. While in Banff, COVID became very real. It was all over – the news of the outbreak – and that it had reached the United States, my home Washington. I was traveling with two friends’ nurses. We were flying home on March 12th wondering if we would be allowed back in the States. I remember being extra careful wiping down our area with sani wipes and using the septic nasal swabs prior to our flight. I remember covering our faces with our jackets on the plane ride home. COVID was becoming very real flying home to where someone had died from it. COVID-19 had made it to Washington.
My vacation was over and I was in charge of the COVID ICU. I was given detailed instructions on how to train others on entering and exiting the patient’s room. We had all been trained early in the year on proper donning and doffing [of personal protective equipment]. COVID-19 took it to a new level. Not only did we don and doff very methodically, steps had been added to safely enter and exit a room with cleaning doors and surfaces multiple times with each entry and exit. There was and still is a trained observer to watch and make sure you enter and exit the room safely. It was intense.
My work day involved dressing in PPE, wearing scrubs (no street clothes or undershirts), scrub pants either rolled up or tucked in your socks so they didn’t touch the ground, a plastic gown, hair pulled back, a mask (N95 or PAPR) and eye protection. We’d try to cluster care so that we were not going in and out of the room. Not to mention making sure we were hydrated and had gone to the bathroom before we went in. You could expect to be in your patient room for hours. And when I did leave the room, I would be drenched, my scrubs soaked from sweat.
As the world learned more about the virus so did we. We adapted to COVID-19 and how we entered and exited rooms. Procedures would continue to evolve and treatments and therapies would change. The COVID ICU or our nickname Camp Covid continues to be up and running. It is staffed by neuroscience intensive care nurses as well as other nurses from other intensive care units. Caring for these patients has been exhausting.
One of the hardest things I have experienced with COVID-19 is when a patient is admitted to our ICU who is talking to us, alert and oriented. They feel terrible, are having trouble breathing and are scared. We are all hoping the medication and therapies like self-proning will work. But there are times when nothing works and they continue to struggle to breathe, becoming more short of breath, eventually requiring full life support. It is different from any other illness.
Q: With family members not being able to physically be present, has your role as nurse changed or adapted to help people connect with their loved ones? If so, in what ways?
A: COVID-19 prohibits any visitors from coming to the COVID ICU. This means families cannot be at their loved one’s bedside. Communication with families to the patient has been with Zoom on a laptop in the patient room. There have been many heartbreaking moments to hear families talk to their loved one, children sharing what they had done that day and spouses singing or just sharing stories of their day. Many times tears would roll down my face as I stood there listening to how much they love the person lying in the bed. Families would be so thankful for time spent “zooming.”
There are those who have conquered the virus and left the unit which is cause for celebration. We line the hall with staff to cheer for them as they leave Camp Covid. And there are those who are not as lucky. The individual who continues to do poorly despite all efforts. And the call is made for the family to come and say goodbye. Two family members are allowed into the patient’s room for 20 minutes and then they are escorted off the unit. It is absolutely devastating.
Q: This year has been stressful for so many of us. Is there anything you find helpful to care for your mental health and wellbeing as the pandemic continues?
A: To say this pandemic has been stressful is an understatement. So much has happened it is difficult to put into words. However, I can honestly say I love my job. I love being a nurse and the people I work with. They are all amazing individuals. We carry each other.
For me, keeping my spirits up and surviving this pandemic is taking it one day at a time.
Exercising, getting outside, and journaling which I started in June. I continue to be thankful for my own health.
Q: What is one thing you wish more people understood about the pandemic?
A: People and the community need to be less careless. Be aware of your surroundings, be aware of your own health. Please do the simple thing of wearing a mask. If you are not feeling well, stay home!!
From the beginning, the University of Washington and UW Medicine have supported our state’s efforts to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. “Huskies fighting COVID-19” is a feature series highlighting individuals whose work is making an impact from Public Health and Computer Science & Engineering to the Virology Lab and the emergency room.