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Emily Pastore & Melissa Butler go to the Super BowlCape Cod Healthcare goes to the Super Bowl

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Celebrate each other – In Your Own Words

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Published on March 23, 2021

One year, a thousand experiences: CCHC staff reflect on the pandemicOne year, a thousand experiences: CCHC staff reflect on the pandemic

Representing CCHC at Super Bowl LV, two colleagues share a common COVID-19 journey

Emily & MelissaEmily Pastore, RN in the Falmouth Hospital ICU and Cindy Eldredge, RT and Cardiopulmonary Coordinator at Cape Cod Hospital, were among the 72 vaccinated healthcare workers from New England who received an all-expense paid trip to the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, FL.

The healthcare workers who attended were honored as representatives of all frontline pandemic workers – those who have fought COVID-19 in a battle to help save their patients’ lives.

And as representative of those working directly in COVID-19 patient care, both say their experience of the pandemic has changed how they view their jobs, their colleagues and their community.

Both Pastore and Eldredge said the early days of the pandemic took shape inside the hospital units as “controlled chaos” with an all-hands effort to find strategies to treat this new, mysterious illness.

“In the beginning, it was all so new to us, so unknown. The fear factor was palpable,” said Pastore, who has worked at Falmouth Hospital for seven years, but is a veteran critical care nurse who worked in hospitals throughout Vermont.

“Nursing – everyone who was working – would go in and have this underlying fear,” she said. “I’ve done this for 30 years. I’ve never experienced this kind of fear.”

In the earliest days of the pandemic, RNs, physicians and other clinical staff would constantly review the latest information online and collaborate to create what seemed to be best practice, based on other hospitals’ experiences around the country.

“There was dread, but the fear wasn’t there. It was more like, ‘Okay, here we go again.’” Pastore said. “It’s exhausting. It’s being done with less fear, but the exhaustion is there.”

Practical steps like putting IV poles outside of patient rooms for less exposure when handing medications could be the safest or most efficient process, but every new protocol would be tested and reviewed on the floor in real time.

“There was a lot of change. It was just a bouncing ball of new procedures: How to do them; how to do them safely,” Pastore said. “You’re trying to figure out how to best care for the patients and keep everyone else safe.”

There were moments when the magnitude of the crisis would pack an emotional punch among staff who would gather briefly in hallways.

“Sometimes we’d all stop and look at each other behind the masks. The eyes are all-telling,” Pastore said. “From the spring going into June, we were all in a state of shock.”

Summer shines light on lessons learned

Patriots Charter FlightAs spring turned into summer, the first wave of the virus abated, and Eldredge said everyone took stock of what they learned.

“The way we took care of patients in the beginning was with the knowledge we had then,” said Eldredge. “After that first round, you gathered more knowledge. You hopefully learned what works and what doesn’t.”

While the seriousness of the illness had not changed over time, the variety of COVID-19 symptoms that could present aside from respiratory distress, including vascular and neurological effects, were more readily recognized and treated. Protocols for those infected with the virus had become more standardized and the flow of care became somewhat smoother through the summer.

“We found out who’s good at what,” said Pastore. “I felt good about Facetiming with patients’ families because it was how I could connect with my patients’ loved ones. It’s hugely emotional and not everyone is comfortable doing it.”

The physical and emotional toll of the pandemic has ebbed and flowed over time for those working directly with COVID-19 patients.

“It’s very hard, emotionally,” said Eldredge. “We’re supposed to be healers and as everybody knows, we can’t heal a lot of these people.”

Rejoining the fight in autumn and winter

Autumn ushered in a new wave of the disease, but it also brought new determination to apply the lessons learned and a new appreciation of colleagues who also were ramping up for a return to an intense battle.

As cases rose again locally, Eldgredge and Pastore said they were more mentally prepared for a new surge.

“There was dread, but the fear wasn’t there. It was more like, ‘Okay, here we go again.’” Pastore said. “It’s exhausting. It’s being done with less fear, but the exhaustion is there.”

Pastore said that patients who present with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) are “the sickest of the sick.” And while before the pandemic, there would only be a few patients intubated on the unit, they were now accustomed to many intubations and intensive procedures.

“We’ve had plenty of deaths, but we’ve also had amazing recoveries -- people you never thought would see the light of day,” said Pastore.

Forging a tighter bond

Healthcare Hero SelfieThey were not alone in sharing this experience. Eldredge said in talking to other healthcare providers from New England at the Super Bowl, there were common themes.

“We talked about how hard things have been and how intense things have been. I really think we have more of a kinship now,” Eldredge said. As a respiratory therapist, she said her specialty is sometimes seen as a “silent partner” in patient care, and she is grateful for how her specialty has been generously highlighted and for being part of such a collaborative environment at CCH.

“I knew people were strong, but I am amazed at how strong these people are. Not just the therapists, everybody. Emotionally, physically. They’re still there. They’re still going to work even though they’re emotionally and physically done,” said Eldredge.

The same is true at FH.

“We hold each other up, emotionally, physically and professionally. We’ve always said we’re family, but we really mean it now,” Pastore said. “You have this tight pod of people. If you notice one of your coworkers is having a bad day, you swoop in and help out. We’re all in this war zone together.”

More recently, Pastore said, a new emotion has entered their arena – hope.

She was among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on the Cape.

“Melissa Butler and I were the first two nurses to get vaccinated and someone took a picture. We hugged each other. We didn’t even think about it.”

“We didn’t plan it, we just threw our arms around each other,” Pastore said. “Just look at our eyes. It was like a relief.”

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