PALM HEROES: Honoring Those Helping on the Frontlines and Beyond During COVID-19, Week 4
It’s been said that not all heroes wear capes and that has been proven over the past few weeks from people who have put their own lives on hold to help those that are in need. These heroes are the medical and healthcare workers on the frontline, risking their lives and the lives of their families. It also includes teachers doing all they can to turn their classroom into a virtual learning experience. The nurses who have to figure out how to do their best job and protect themselves and others during a shortage of supplies, and we can’t forget the essential workers at our stores and making the many deliveries to all of us staying home. Meet our Palm Heroes.
As we begin to wrap our Heroes’ series, we wanted to share a story with you that will be sure to touch your hearts. This week's Palm Hero is Jennifer Becker, a single mom and RN, working at a children’s hospital in St. Louis. Not only is Jennifer a RN, but recently she has become a homeschool teacher as well to her son who is in the fourth grade. Mother’s day is May 10th and we understand that the day will be different for most, however, we hope that you are able to create new ways to celebrate and honor your mom the best you can right now. This is the time to remember that they are our everyday heroes.
We wanted to share something that Jennifer wrote in her own words:
Weight of a Cape
I wrote this after my first masked shifts in the hospital. The first of many shifts filled with emergency COVID meetings and panicked doctors struggling to decide what “safe” looks like nowThe hospital is no longer a place or a job, it is a tangible thing. It permeates me, my hair, my skin, my clothes. It invades me. I frantically strip naked at my door throwing my scrubs in the wash then race up to my shower. After changing clothes and cleaning the entire house with Clorox wipes it still lingers. It is a part of me now. I feel slightly foreign, like an invader to my family because this entity still clings to the invisible parts of me untouched by wipes and hand sanitizer. I was told by so many people this weekend that I am a hero. I don’t feel like a hero. I feel scared. I never realized the weight of a cape. All of this experience is new and unpredictable but I never believed I would feel this overwhelming sense of duty. My patients are my tribe. I learn to know and love them. Today my patient is society. I feel the same sense of love and responsibility for my community as I do for each individual patient to whom I have the honor to attend. This crisis is in my soul now. It’s a thread that colors the rest of my tapestry. I never considered the pandemic scenario when I chose to become a nurse but the truth is nursing chose me, not the other way around. I didn’t sign up to fight in the front line to an invisible war but this is an essential part of my journey. I am scared of what’s coming and I pray for proper equipment so that I may best serve my patient population. So to answer the question that has been served me countless times this past weekend.... Am I ok? The answer is a resounding yes. I am serving a higher purpose right now. I am exactly where I am supposed to be in my life.
You can read more of Jennifer’s story below:
What is your name and occupation?
My name is Jennifer. I’m a BSN, RN. I work as a bedside nurse in a level IV NICU
Where do you work/live?
I work at St. Louis Children’s hospital and I live just 20 minutes west in the suburbs outside the city.
What’s your typical day like?
My typical day entails a morning shower, a quick stop at my local coffee shop, and some quiet time in the nurses lounge before clocking in. I then have 30 minutes to receive a report from the night shift nurses about my patients before diving in to my patient care. I also serve on the NICU transport team which allows me to attend high risk deliveries and rush newborns from the neighboring labor and delivery unit to our unit in the pediatric hospital.
What is different you ask?.....Only everything.
My day begins 45 minutes earlier so that I have time to stop at the nearest open coffee shop which is now 15 minutes out of my way. I don’t shower before work anymore. Then once I arrive at work I put on my surgical cap to avoid transmission in my long hair and don my mask. I keep clear goggles on my head in case I end up in closer proximity to others in an elevator, code blue, or any situation that involves a crowd. I have to check in at a health screening before I enter the hospital which includes a series of questions and a temperature check. Then I can enter my hospital. Once at work masking is voluntary but nearly unanimous by all staff. My hospital provides paper surgical masks each shift for every staff member. If a nurse is assigned to a COVID19 positive patient or patient under investigation they will be administered a respirator and face shield under certain circumstances, not all COVID patients earn the nurse an N95. Every day brings new rules, procedures, and expectations as understanding of this virus changes alongside our dwindling supply of personal protective equipment. Sanitizing wipes, Hand sanitizer, masks, and isolation gowns are locked up and administered by management on an as needed basis. Disposable N95 respirators are used indefinitely by single caregivers and stored in paper bags throughout the unit. Rules keep changing about who gets to have respirators versus surgical masks. Report is no longer done side by side with the night shift nurse, we stand 8 feet apart. Everyone is angry, everyone is scared. I don’t go to the lunch room anymore. I don’t feel safe taking my mask off in a small room full of people. I know the staff have already gotten sick but nobody wants to talk about it.
How are you protecting your loved ones when you get home?
When I get home from work I have a garbage bag waiting for me at the front door. I strip down to my underwear and throw everything in the bag. My shoes get sprayed with Lysol and my work bag and phone gets wiped with antimicrobial wipes. I then shower and change. Once I am in clean clothes the entry and all lights and doors I touched get wiped down. My son stays with my mother on the weekends so my hope is to keep all exposed materials contained when he is home. I have a special antimicrobial additive that goes in with my scrubs and once I am through working and I finally get to bring my baby home, the following day is always a house cleaning day. It never feels like enough.
With long work days, how do you stay connected to your family/friends?
I have family all over the country. I spend a lot of time communicating with my sister in New York on the phone and through text. I have spoken with my brother and sister in law in New Jersey. I talk to my dad on the phone almost everyday. I worry about him because he runs his own business in the heart of St. Louis City and he continues to work. I am blessed with a mother who takes my son on the weekends when I work. I stand in her doorway and do air hugs every Thursday night before I head in to my crazy work schedule through the weekend. We also talk almost every day. She is a retired nurse and one of my best friends. My sister in law did a zoom magic show for my nephews birthday last week. We will be celebrating another birthday in quarantine next week. My son turns 10 on Monday.
Has connecting with others outside of work changed for you?
My first degree is a bachelor's degree in education. I used to teach fourth grade, my son is 9 and will be finishing his fourth grade year at home with me. I feel that I should be uniquely prepared to be a great educator for him, but I feel like I fail him every day. He goes to a private school and is being given lengthy complex home projects and daily work. We spend three hours many days in Zoom classes and up to 7 hours daily on work. The complexity of the work is not what is hard. I struggle to remove my personal investment in his work. I struggle to allow him to be uniquely himself rather than a reflection of my expectations. The layers of complex technology that his teachers utilize to keep the kids engaged in their work and communicating with each other is impressive but exhausting. The hours we spend frustrated with new apps and websites is emotionally draining. He is an only child which is a gift when it concerns my ability to focus on him, but a curse in that he has no peer interaction. So much of school is about learning to function in a group environment, respect for authority, and social skills. I can teach him math, but I can’t teach him those vital details that are being lost on kids this year.
We want to send a huge thank you to Jennifer for taking the time to chat with us during this busy time. We've been celebrating our Palm heroes every Friday, so be sure to go back and read the previous week's amazing hero stories of people who are stepping up when they’re needed most. Tell us - who are your heroes today?