One year ago this month, we began to understand the reach of COVID-19. This is part of a periodic series at HopkinsAllChldrens.org/Stories on various ways the pandemic has made an impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everyone’s lives, but those on the health care frontlines may have seen the greatest impacts. In Johns Hopkins All Children’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), there is a dedicated area for COVID-19 patients as well as other critically-ill children, some suffering from life-threatening diseases or recovering from serious surgeries.
The way staff work and how they interact with patients is strikingly different from just a year ago. Laura Gourley, R.N., a clinical nurse in the PICU, shares how the pandemic has affected her life personally and professionally, and also gives us an inside look at why she wanted to care for our young patients in the most heart-wrenching times.
What do you do at work in a normal day?
I work on quality and safety checks throughout the day to ensure each patient is properly cared for and advocate for any issues I think they may need. I also help out during medical rounds where we learn more about each patient case and their care and, of course, assist with ongoing patient care and new admissions to the pediatric intensive care unit.
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
COVID-19 brought increased stressors and worries to both my personal and professional life.
Personally, there is always the concern of whether I would be exposed at work since I’m working with COVID-19 patients. I’ve worried about potentially exposing my roommate or boyfriend so always changed clothes and left my work shoes in my trunk before coming inside. I’ve also stayed away from people I would normally spend time with such as my family to mitigate risk to myself and to them. I’ve also put some goals, like buying a house, on hold. While my boyfriend and I have had hard moments where we were overwhelmed with all the changes the past year brought, and continues to bring, it has helped that we always had each other to be a supportive person.
Professionally, at the start of the pandemic, we had very low patient volumes in the PICU, which was good for the community, but eventually we began to see more patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which is concerning. MIS-C sometimes worries me more than the COVID-19 infections, especially since we don’t know the lasting effects it can have on patients.
Pandemic or not — we see the sickest cases and sometimes have beautiful outcomes, but other times, we have sad cases that make us question what we do. It is hard to watch a child at the end of their life, but as a team, we recognize it is important to keep coming back and to do our best work in taking care of and advocating for patients.
How has family life been during the pandemic?
My mother, stepfather, father and stepmother all live in Indiana. I talk to my mother and stepfather a few times a week, usually to check in and just chat. I am very close to my mother, so we always used to talk frequently even before COVID-19. Multiple people in my family have increased risk of adverse outcomes with pre-existing conditions if they were to get COVID, so I have not traveled home, and they haven’t traveled here to visit.
Not being able to visit out-of-state family or have family visit is probably one of the harder things during the pandemic for me. My sister and I have talked more this last year then prior. We both work in health care, so we can relate to the stresses and frustration we have. We have been there to listen to the other when they needed to vent or get some ideas or different perspectives. I think we have become a bit closer this past year. I am thankful all four of my parents have been able to receive the first dose of the vaccine and will all receive their second dose by the end of March. Hopefully it will mean that I will be able to see them in the not-so-distant future.
Why did you want to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital?
I wanted to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital because we have a really comprehensive orientation for new graduate nurses, and really love that we specialize solely in pediatrics. There are lots of people and physicians committed to research here to improve patient safety, outcomes and treatments.
What's your favorite thing about working at Johns Hopkins All Children’s?
My favorite things are the work that I do, and knowing that even if the outcomes are not what a family or myself would prefer to have happen, that I can do my best to help families and patients who are going through very challenging situations.
I also am very glad to work with my team. It takes so many people to provide care. We all try to do our best, and we are all needed. We have great respiratory therapists, environmental services staff, nurses, physicians, Child Life specialists, social workers, case managers, patient care technicians, unit coordinators, nutritionists, as well as a great leadership team in the PICU that I really appreciate working with and all they do. It is sometimes a struggle to adapt to changes in protocols and everyone has shown so much grace in working through the challenges.
What did you want to be when you grow up, and why?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a large animal veterinarian (farm animal veterinarian). My dad was a farmer, and I grew up in a rural area with my grandparents having a farm. Once I was in high school, I decided I wanted to become a nurse like my grandmother and some of my aunts.
Who were your role models growing up?
My main role model growing up was my paternal grandmother. She was a nurse who was strong in her beliefs and convictions but never judged another or looked down on anyone. I spent a lot of time with her on the farm, “helping” in the vegetable garden.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love visiting theme parks and running 10Ks but I’ve adjusted some of my stress relief activities and hobbies during the pandemic to avoid crowds and risks. Now, my boyfriend and I spend time putting together puzzles and I also developed a bit of an online shopping habit. I think with everything going on, I have become a bit sentimental and have started collecting items that remind me of my loved ones. In particular, I bought a set of dishes that were the same brand and pattern as the set my paternal grandmother had when I was growing up. I now use the dishes on a daily basis, and they make me think of her and my childhood. I’ve been using my new dishes to get into baking as well which has been a great stress relief.
What is one piece of health advice you would offer to families?
No matter what your concern for yourself, your child, or your family member is, no matter how small you may think it might be, please speak up. You are never wrong to seek help or assistance for something. We want to help and to try and address things that you feel are issues or are wrong.