Ochsner nurses reflect on pandemic through letters to the past

Published: May. 6, 2022 at 5:34 PM CDT|Updated: May. 6, 2022 at 6:15 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - If you knew in 2020 what you know now about the pandemic, what would it change? Would it affect how you moved around? Would you hold more tightly to loved ones, or would you find strength in the darkest hours?

For National Nurse’s Day, a group of nurses at Ochsner Medical Center wrote letters to their past selves, documenting their own heroic and heartbreaking journeys through the pandemic as front-line workers.

“Dear me. Take a deep breath. You’re going to need it. You have no idea what you’re about to go through, but get ready to endure a long, tough battle as a frontline worker for a virus called COVID 19,” starts a letter from Drew Barber, an RN on the telemetry floor at Ochsner.

“I can’t mince words. You’re going to feel afraid and powerless,” ICU nurse Breonna Riley wrote to herself.

Each nurse comes from a different department. Their work experience ranges from decades to barely a few years. However, their struggles and strength are very much the same. Their letters share the pain of witnesses case after case and death after death.

”You were excitedly preparing for the arrival of your third granddaughter, Penelope Bloom. You will be able to attend her birth, but two days later she will go home with her parents and sister. Because you work in a hospital setting where COVID 19 patients are being actively treated, you will not be able to see or hold her for three months. You will be shut away from your entire family,” wrote Michelle Morgan, a transition nurse in Ochsner’s labor and delivery department.

Through their letters, they document the surges and the shortages of equipment and staff. They also share heartbreaking lessons learned while caring for the sickest patients.

“Make sure that the married couple say goodbye and how much they love each other before they leave the E.R. They may not have another chance to say it again in person,” wrote ER nurse Stacey Freeman. At some point, they all considered leaving their profession, but they all found a reason to stay.

”I have four kids. I went months without seeing them,” said Freeman. “But there was always great phone calls, you know, keep it up mom. That’s all I needed.”

”I love people. I am a big mush person. I love to care for people. So, I’ve known for years, probably grade school that I was going to be a nurse one day. I wasn’t going to let this take it away from me,” said Barber. ”Knowing that I’m not perfect and folks are really depending on me,” said Riley. “They expect me to show up and do a good job and I’m making a difference.”

“The love for my job. The passion. I love my patients. I love my babies. I love my mommas. I love my coworkers. It’s just a fabulous environment to be in every day and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Morgan. So, these letters are as much a testament to their strength and the strength of their colleagues as they are a chance to document an unprecedented time.

”Even now when I look back and think, that’s what we did? that’s how long we did that? Those patients actually did that? Or we actually do that for that patient? Or that family actually went through that?” said Morgan. The letters are also a chance to remind everyone just how far we’ve come.

”In 2022, you will see faces of strangers again in their smiles as you pass them in the grocery store,” wrote Barber. ”You continue to work diligently every shift to care for patients and their families. Some call you a hero, but you refer to it as your duty,” wrote Riley.

”Love yourself and stay healthy. Everything will be just fine. Slow down sometimes and do a few things for yourself,” wrote Freeman. ”We are finally winning this battle because we’ve never lost hope. Stand firm in your faith. The evidence of things hoped for and the belief of things not yet seen,” wrote Morgan.

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