Casey, an X-ray tech at Gulf Coast Medical Center, prepares for another day on the unit.
Morning brings breakfast and preparation for discharge.
The afternoon introduces new patients who have just had surgery, while other patients go home. Life on the medical surgery floor is back to normal – after the first cascade of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had very few COVID-19 patients on our floor, but we were affected,” said Stratton Washington, RN, MSN, nursing director for the unit.
Washington and other nurses at Gulf Coast Medical Center saw their numbers drop because the pandemic led to suspension of elective surgeries.
Now, with a return to a more normal schedule, beds are filling up with patients who have had surgery for gallbladder dysfunction, appendectomies, bariatric or abdominal surgeries, wounds and carotid procedures.
Patients may notice a big difference in how the staff approaches their work. Goggles and face masks are required 100 percent of the time, making personal connections more challenging. Many staff members wear two masks—the hospital-issued, white, clinical mask, covered with something more personal.
“You can be anything you want in this world…be kind.” The message on Washington’s mask offers hope and expresses what her facial expressions often cannot. “It’s harder to breathe with two layers, but it makes it more fun,” she said.
The floor has 37 beds, and on a recent day 34 were occupied, keeping staff busy. Environmental services specialist Jessica Vargas Agosto spends her time cleaning rooms to make sure they are ready for incoming patients.
Along the way she injects positive vibes into her routine.
“I love my job,” Vargas Agosto said. “The people here are great. We are trying to help another human being get through a tough time. When a patient doesn’t have a visitor and can’t see her daughter, I can be that ‘daughter’ for three minutes. Anything I can do to help.”
Life on the unit has changed in other ways, too.
Once on the floor, the staff has only overhead lighting to provide light in the halls. A window, once present at the end of the hall, was covered over in preparation for a new wing, which is slated to open later this year.
Preparing for a return to a normal schedule has been challenging but welcome. Instead of working with a trimmed down staff, everyone is on the floor for their normal shifts, giving the medical surgical floor a positive buzz. Even so, if the virus spikes again and patients are no longer allowed visitors or the hospital is required to suspend elective surgeries, people on this floor are ready.
“We work together to plan,” according to Elaine Thomas, RN.
During a recent shift Thomas reviewed patient charts with Krista Hardee, a nurse resident — further proof that current and future nurses move forward, even under less-than-ideal circumstances.
For now, the unit looks to the future. Patients who spend a few hours or few days in the department benefit from the team’s dedication.
“We love what we do,” Washington said. “It takes all of us to make it work.”
Elaine Thomas, an RN, is part of a dedicated unit at Gulf Coast Medical Center.