Students, faculty, and staff all felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that affected their workplaces, their confidence, their understanding of nursing, and their faith. Six members of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) community shared their COVID stories during the Second Annual Kaleidoscope Story Slam, presented by the UTHSC College of Nursing.
More than 100 people registered for the event, which was created by Assistant Professor Christie Manasco, PhD, RN, and Assistant Professor Lisa Beasley, DNP, RN, of the College of Nursing. “This event has opened opportunities for the UTHSC community to harness the power of storytelling that helps us humanize our own diverse, yet similar experiences,” Dr. Manasco said. “For us, that is what this event is all about — building meaningful connections and relationships through intentional and caring dialogue.”
Instructor Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, of the College of Nursing, shared her experiences volunteering at the UTHSC call center to provide results of the Tiger Lane COVID tests to patients. The call center gave her a script to read when she delivered results to COVID-positive patients.
Their responses required her to rewrite the script, she said. One person asked her, “How will I pay my rent if I stay home for two weeks?” Another asked, “How much of a fever pill can I give my 9-month-old baby?” Each time, Cavallo added to the script, including resources about rental assistance and information about children’s medication.
During one call, the person on the other end of the line said simply, “I can’t breathe.” Cavallo used her cell phone to call 911 while remaining on the landline to reassure the person that help was on the way. They rewrote the script again, adding emergency resource information for callers whose patients needed immediate attention.
“As a nurse, I am taught what to say to patients,” Cavallo said. “But unless I allow the suffering of my patients to change the script, it is useless.”
Nursing student Matthew Davis served as a medic in Ft. Benning, Georgia, during the pandemic and saw the example of a head nurse who – after decades in nursing – still showed great compassion for patients, even spending her own money to buy them protein shakes. “She was really caring for their livelihood and not just treating their symptoms. She is the reason I want to be a nurse. She is my hero.”
For Tanesha Washington, a senior administrative assistant at UTHSC, the pandemic was one factor in many changing dynamics of her life that led to a crisis and then resulted in newfound confidence.
On the second day of a new role at UTHSC, Washington learned that employees would begin working at home because of the pandemic. Her school-aged daughters, like other students, were beginning virtual school. Washington also had just had a new baby and had moved to a new house.
Although she sought guidance in her new role at work, the situation soon became overwhelming, she said. She suffered a severe anxiety attack that required medical attention. Although she recovered, she said the work situation did not improve. Washington reached out to discover what her options were and learned that she could request a transfer. “That was the best decision I could have made,” she said.
Washington is thriving in her new role at UTHSC, has returned to college, and is part of the UTHSC Buddies program, which helps new employees navigate the university. “I feel like I am the best me I’ve been in a long time,” she said.
For Instructor Alise Farrell, PhD, RN, the pandemic meant retaining her faith in spite of the loss of a beloved friend and colleague.
Because COVID patients were isolated, Dr. Farrell worried about her friend being alone in the hospital. She said she would lie awake, praying for her friend, and then she received the strong feeling that God was with her. “I just got this sense, ‘You know her faith, you know I love her, and I am holding her hand. There is someone with her’.’’
Although her friend did not survive, Dr. Farrell recounted the passion and compassion with which she lived her life. “Not until she passed did I realize the intensity of her relationship with every person she encountered,” she said. “She had the compassion to see people where they were and meet their need and lead them where they need to be led.”
She urged the Story Slam audience, primarily nursing students, “remember to be very passionate about what you do and never lose hope.”