FGCU nurses fight on the front lines of COVID-19

Keith Gibson interviews  Sherri Parmar, Class of 2015, the first Eagle to tell her emotional inside story

But of all those Eagles who serve however and wherever called, none are more critical than those toiling in the trenches: FGCU School of Nursing graduates and faculty fighting an invisible enemy in the intensive-care units of hospitals throughout the country, tending to the innocent victims of a worldwide war we never saw coming. They are heroes who never got into grassroots healthcare to necessarily become such, but like most heroes, they are ordinary people who became extraordinary when their names were called.

FGCU reached out to some of these healthcare heroes, even as they continue the fight. What they have seen, learned, overcome and evolved into through it all ranges from educational to emotional, from triumphant to tragic. In the coming weeks, we will showcase these Eagles individually, and ask them to describe what the places battling COVID-19 and the faces on the front lines really look like.

We begin with Sherri Parmar, a 27-year-old alum originally from Los Angeles who moved to Fort Myers in 2007 and began attending FGCU three years later. After earning a bachelor of science in nursing in 2015, she has continued her career in Southwest Florida as the Lee Health system’s Clinical Practice Council chair for nurses. Her specific job mandate of late: self-described “front-line, bedside nurse,” in the Medical Progressive Care Unit (MPCU) of the Gulf Coast Medical Center COVID-19 Unit in Fort Myers.

Keith FGCU: For you personally, what have been the toughest things to deal with on the job? Please be as open and sincere as you feel comfortable with.

SHERRI: My team and I have gone through blood, sweat and tears. I work on a unit that has been one of the most frequently modified units of our hospital, so change has been one of our strengths as a team.

Sherri in her personal protective equipment. “I added the raincoat to disinfect between patient encounters,” she said. “I always add a smile on my mask because it makes my patients smile! Thankfully, now I have a clip picture to wear over my PPE so they can see who I am.”

I have to ensure I am protected with personal protective equipment (PPE) prior to every encounter with my patients to prevent cross-contamination between myself and others.

Every day we walk into work, wondering are we OK on PPE? Thankfully, with our frequent updates that not every hospital around the nation gets, we know what Lee Health is doing in regards to PPE – which is supporting us and providing us with everything they have. We understand this is a national issue.

Patients who are dying have family who are unable to be there with them because they are stuck out of state. I had a COVID-19-positive patient who was dying from non-COVID-19-related problems and just wanted to be left alone … not even talk to his family. Talking to the family and letting them know that was difficult.

I have had situations where patients who were dying were able to FaceTime with their family before they passed. I have had situations where patients had to be emergently intubated and only had seconds to hear their loved ones’ voices. It is always hard to be with my patients at the end of life or at an emergent event. But doing whatever I can for them — whether it is holding their hand, speaking with them even if they can’t respond, speaking with the family, praying with them — their facial expressions, their body language tell me a lot, and I know that all the hardship was worth it,  to see them pass away as peacefully as they can.

It’s also tough knowing patients come in and are isolated to their room. I make it my mission to ensure they know they have my support, that they know I am there to help them in any way, that I am their voice, and that I am not afraid to come into their room to talk or provide care. I make it my mission to let them know that they are truly not alone as they fight this virus. Nurses are with the patient the longest during a shift, and it is up to us to be their healers mentally, physically and spiritually. This is how I practice every day on the front line.

Keith FGCU: Besides some of the positive outcomes you referred to previously, what other good developments have you seen?

SHERRI: Our teamwork and motivation to beat this virus became stronger than ever. Our support for each other both mentally and physically has been amazing. All of this has sincerely reflected on our patient care in a positive light, and to have exceptional patient care is to have an exceptional family unit of staff.

Our team identified that our COVID-19 patients are suffering with isolation and voicing their depression, so we simply made and brought in activity kits (crosswords, puzzles, brain teasers, pencils/paper) to occupy their minds, which several patients told us helped with their coping.

I have to expose myself to my dying COVID-19 patients longer because it’s the right thing to do, the human thing to do. No matter what, I am a nurse first, and my calling is to be with my patient through the good and the bad, to hold their hand, to cry with them, to laugh with them, to pray with them, to motivate them, and to find peace with them.

I have seen our Lee Health team post motivational stories, positive outcomes, pictures and videos of their staff and their teamwork.

I truly think we have the best community in the nation – to see our community unite and help each other in any way possible, whether it is making masks, donating food, or cheering the front-liners on, we can’t ever thank you enough. You all have made us sigh with relief, breathe a little easier, become more brave, feeling supported, and made us cry happy tears. I am so thankful to be a part of an amazing community.

Keith FGCU: No one in healthcare at any level – from medical-supply companies to healthcare workers — could have been totally prepared for a pandemic such as this. In that light, how did your education and experiences at FGCU help you deal with such a crisis?

SHERRI: I owe so much to my FGCU experience in helping me shape who I am. I had tough experiences throughout nursing school, and even with all of that, I learned to be positive and to focus on the fact that I am training to be where I want to be for the rest of my life – and that is in the service of others. I am so thankful for my FGCU professors, who I am still in contact with. I am so thankful to my FGCU comrades I have met through these years who have taught me the good and the bad. I continue to feel so connected with FGCU, especially because my unit has a lot of working FGCU alumni.

Learning how to look at the data, the evidence, and the logical science from my FGCU nursing courses has helped me fear less and be braver than what I would have normally felt. I am confident with the information FGCU taught me to prepare for the real world of nursing. I am confident that my clinicals helped me build the muscle memory that I needed to succeed in the floor.

FGCU has been a positive aspect in my life, and I know that my FGCU experiences helped me succeed at Lee Health as a Doc Coggins (Commitment to Excellence Award) recipient, a Clinical Practice Council chair, and a bedside nurse — all in 4 1/2 years. Thank you, FGCU, for giving me an opportunity I never dreamed of achieving. Caring and compassion is something that comes with me personally, but was strengthened at FGCU. Moments like seeing a dying man say thank you, a grown man cry happy tears that he’s going home, a hand to hold and grasp so tight, a family who understands what’s going on because of your explanations … moments like these mean the world to me.

No one was prepared for this pandemic, but it happened and continues to happen. I learned through my experiences that you just have to make the best of it and do the right thing.

In nursing school, my class and I went through one of our worst times when one of our fellow FGCU students (Brian Alexander) passed away unexpectedly. We united together even more, we honored him, and today, I am so proud to see an FGCU nursing scholarship in his honor, to see how he continues to help people. I continue to honor him, and the experiences that came from that have helped me become stronger and care for my patients and their families the best way possible.

Keith FGCU: Any final thoughts?

Sherri shown “taking a break to breathe out of my mask … right after running back and forth between two emergencies.”

SHERRI: Shout out to our amazing community, to the quarantined, to all front-liner staff, to our leaders, and to the rest of our nation. Keep up the strength and please know we are all in this together. Sincerely, a loud and proud nurse! Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share. I am a proud FGCU alumnus!

 

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