When Erica Espinoza gets home from work, she has to keep her three daughters away from her. She’s a nurse who works in the Emergency Department of Yuma Regional Medical Center.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Espinoza has had a setup in her garage, where she takes off her work clothes and shoes. She doesn’t carry anything inside. After changing clothes, she runs through the house.
“Don’t touch me!” she reminds her girls, ages 12, 6 and 4. She then showers and decontaminates everything she comes in contact with, “just to be safe.”
Being a nurse is “very difficult right now, especially in the ER, where we get everyone,” Espinoza said. “It’s super scary, taking care of patients, and then being really fearful of this virus, because it’s something to be fearful of, it’s so contagious.
“But I think we’re doing a great job educating people as much as we can, and everyone has come together amazingly. The floors, every unit, we have each other’s back,” she added.
She thanks the community for being so supportive and understanding, especially with the hospital’s visitor restrictions. “It’s really hard for people, but they’re doing such a great job, understanding and working with us. The community really, really has shown so much support, and I wanted to say we’re grateful,” Espinoza said.
Every year nurses are celebrated during National Nurses Week, traditionally celebrated from May 6 to May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, but, this year, these healthcare providers are being hailed as heroes for being in the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Being a nurse is difficult even in the most normal of times, and it takes a special kind of person to handle the stress that comes with it. The Yuma Sun spoke with three YRMC nurses who work in three different fields to find out why they chose that profession and how they’re handling their duties during this particular hard time.
EMERGENCY ROOM NURSE
Nursing is a good fit for Espinoza. She has always been nurturing, and she enjoys taking care of people.
Espinoza, wife and mother, has been in nursing for nine years, eight of those in the emergency department. She decided to go into nursing at the age of 21. Her older sister, working at the hospital at the time, suggested she take a couple of nursing classes. “I think you would do really well, you have the personality for this job,” her sister said.
Espinoza had no medical background, and at first she felt intimidated. So, of course, as a fairly new nurse, she decided to work in the ER. “I didn’t know if I could handle it, but I enjoyed the rotation in nursing school,” Espinoza said.
In the ER, she enjoys the opportunity of caring for a spectrum of patients, from pediatric to geriatric, and everything in between. “It’s very challenging but very rewarding. I have to know a lot and I’m constantly learning. Each patient brings something new,” Espinoza said.
As a nurse, she wants to be there for patients who need reassurance. When they’re scared, she wants to be someone they rely on. And if they have questions, she wants to help them find the answer.
“We see people during their scariest times. My favorite part of being a nurse is helping them through that, guiding them through each level of their care while they’re here. If it’s something that is super scary for them, that’s my priority, helping them find answers and have peace of mind,” Espinoza said.
The hardest part for her is dealing with the death of patients. “Especially in the ER, we lose patients of all ages. It’s hard to handle,” she noted.
As the mother of “three beautiful children,” the loss of a child is particularly difficult. “If a pediatric emergency doesn’t turn out well, it’s super hard to let it go. But it helps you realize how precious our time is here and not to take anything for granted.”
But, in the end, the positive outcomes outnumber the bad ones. There’s that time, for example, when a patient with an irregular heart rhythm passed away. “We brought the patient back, and the patient sat up and started talking to me like nothing had happened,” Espinoza said. “It was amazing. I thought, ‘Wow. I’m never going to forget. This is what I live for, and why I do I do what I do.”
CANCER (ONCOLOGY) NURSE
When Lisa McGarry was in her first semester of nursing school, she was diagnosed with cancer. She went through nursing school at the same time she was treated for thyroid cancer. That’s when she decided she wanted to care for cancer patients.
“When I went to YRMC and they took out my thyroid, the physicians and nurses were so awesome, so compassionate and caring. I knew I wanted to transition to that field,” she recalled.
For McGarry, nursing has been a passion since high school. She had always wanted to be in the medical field. Once she finished high school, she became an emergency medical technician. That’s when she “really knew it was my passion and I wanted to be a nurse eventually.”
McGarry has now been a nurse for nine years and specialized in oncology for four years. She works in the YRMC Cancer Center.
Her favorite part of nursing are the patients. She explained why: “Every patient is different, and especially in oncology, where the prognosis can be poor, you are their main line. You are the person they trust. Every day working with cancer patients is another opportunity to make their lives better.
“You’re basically their caregiver while they’re here. They want compassion and caring, and you are committed to giving them that when they’re here. Especially now, with COVID-19, when they can’t have their family with them, nurses are their family,” she added.
The hardest part is knowing that a patient’s life is coming to an end. “We become close to them. They’re like family, and they get to know us so well. They come through the doors with the biggest smiles. It’s amazing. We are a part of their life.”
It takes a lot of compassion and energy, McGarry noted. “Sometimes you go home drained, but at least you know you did something for that patient, and the patient was very proud and happy.”
The Cancer Center has always encouraged family to be involved in a patient’s care. However, during the pandemic, family members are not allowed to be with their loved ones during treatment. “The nurses here, we are their family. We communicate with their family members. Our patients are No. 1. They’re always the first on our list,” McGarry said.
“Nursing is challenging in every aspect, but it is also rewarding, and the rewards outweigh the challenges. We go home and look back and you know you did something right. You leave them with a smile, and that’s all you need.”
LABOR AND DELIVERY NURSE
Melissa Hare, a nurse for 10½ years, spends a lot of time away from her husband and two girls, ages 4 and 18 months. She is expecting a baby boy in two weeks.
“We go through so much. We’re away from our families for long periods of time, but it’s so rewarding to be able to help people, especially in difficult times like we’re going through now,” Hare said.
With visitors prohibited from entering the hospital during the pandemic, sometimes nurses are the only connection between patients and families during a painful time in their lives.
“We share such a bond being able to be there for families,” Hare noted. “I love what I do, I love the flexibility, the teamwork we have, especially being able to help out the community.”
Hare works in labor and delivery and telemetry, which involves remotely monitoring patients’ vital signs. She first knew she wanted to be a nurse back in high school when a couple of nurses went to her school to talk about their role in the community. Like them, she wanted to impact people’s life and be there for them in both good and bad times.
As a nursing student, she got to experience a different area of nursing every semester. After observing the nurses in labor and delivery, she chose to work in that field. “I just loved the teamwork in labor and delivery,” Hare said.
She wants to be there for patients when they’re at their happiest, but also during their most vulnerable moments, and when they’re in pain, for example, after a stillbirth.
Hare came to appreciate the delivery process even more after she became a mother. “I loved it before, but even more when I became a mom and actually experienced what women go through,” she said.
The day she got back from maternity leave, a patient had a baby without an epidural. “I felt her pain. We had such a bond. I could relate to her. I was making a difference even if just by holding her hand,” Hare recalled.
For Hare, the hardest part of being a nurse is “having to be strong because sometimes we want to cry with the patient, but you have to take these stresses with you.” That’s why having a support system is important. “Patients die, mothers lose their babies. The bonds we create with patients do affect you.
But, most of all, nursing is rewarding. “Especially during this time right now, being called a hero and being looked up to, it’s the best feeling. My 4-year-old now wants to be a nurse. It makes you feel so good being called a hero and to have so many people looking up to you,” Hare said.