Editor’s Note: March 26 marked two years since Frederick Health Hospital admitted its first coronavirus patient. As the country enters year three of living with the pandemic, The Frederick News-Post spoke with three health care workers about what they experienced over the last two years and how they kept going.
On Saturday, we shared the story of Katina Parker, a respiratory therapist who had to find new ways to keep motivated as the pandemic dragged on. Yesterday, we shared the story of Joy White, a charge nurse on the medical surgical floor who returned to work while still grieving the death of her husband.
Today, we share the final installment of our series: the story of Dana Remsburg, a charge nurse in the intensive care unit.
Dana Remsburg is used to standing.
She’s had a lot of practice. She’s been working at Frederick Health Hospital — the same place she was born — since 1986. Now a charge nurse for the intensive care unit, her shifts typically last upwards of 12 hours.
So, inside an empty bedroom in the hospital’s ICU on a recent afternoon, as she reflected on the past two years, she remained on her feet.
Unless you were there, you couldn’t possibly imagine what it was like, she said — to be in the thick of it, caring for the sickest of the sick and holding patients’ hands as they died without their loved ones by their sides.
Back when coronavirus patients still crowded Remsburg’s unit, she used to get an upset stomach every morning. But with zero coronavirus patients in the ICU as of Monday, she doesn’t feel that way anymore.
“It just lifted a burden off of my shoulders. I come into work now and it’s like —” she inhaled deeply and sighed. “It’s definitely a different perspective in your brain.”
During the most recent surge of the virus, Remsburg and her coworkers knew more about how to care for COVID-19 patients than they did during previous surges. But they also knew how sick people could get.
“Sometimes you feel like … no matter what you do, you can’t make a difference. People are still dying,” she said, speaking quickly and matter-of-factly. “It’s very hard as a nurse. We want to make people better, we want to heal them and get them out of here and get them home. And that wasn’t happening all the time.”
Two months removed from the worst of the omicron surge, Remsburg said it sometimes feels like she has PTSD from working on the front lines. But when asked if she ever considered quitting, she was quick to say no.
“I felt that I could not leave my peers in the lurch,” she said. “I felt committed. I felt like I would be leaving my family if I left them, and I didn’t want to leave them even one nurse short. I just didn’t want to do that.”
“This is my home,” she said. “I couldn’t leave them.”
Frederick Health has taken steps to protect the mental health of its staff, chief nursing officer Diane McFarland said.
‘CODE LAVENDER’The health system offers counseling for workers, a resource leaders have tried to amplify during the past two years, McFarland said. It also added a relaxation room to the hospital, complete with meditation music and comfy chairs, and created “Code Lavender,” a cart stocked with snacks, water, lavender scents and other tools for stress relief.
“I think the one thing I want the staff to know is that we truly do appreciate all that they’ve done,” she said. “They really are the heroes.”
Remsburg will never forget the past two years, she said. But she doesn’t think they will negatively impact her mental health in the future. She has an arsenal of strategies for keeping herself healthy and alleviating stress, from exercising and working on puzzles to spending time with her family, friends and “grand-pups.”
Since the pandemic began, Remsburg has noticed she doesn’t “sweat the small stuff” as much as she used to. Especially after seeing how randomly the virus chose its victims, she’s been trying to enjoy life a little more, she said.
“COVID didn’t pick anybody in particular. A whole family might have gotten it, but one person might have been in here and died,” she said. “So, I’m just trying to live my life to the fullest. Spend time with my family and get everything out of it I can. Because you just don’t know.”