Sonoma County nurses deliver on COVID-19 care as pandemic persists
On his way to the emergency department at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Chad Davis walks past a sign in the entranceway that states “Heroes work here.”
Many would say Davis and his health care colleagues are deserving of the accolade, particularly at a time when they are on the front lines of a pandemic.
Davis, however, holds himself to a higher standard of heroism. The former Marine cites as examples guys who jump on grenades to save their platoon, or firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save a child.
“I’ve met a couple of real heroes in my life,” Davis, 48, said.
A lead ER nurse at Memorial, Davis insists he’s just doing his job when it comes to caring for people possibly infected with a highly contagious and potentially fatal virus.
“That’s what we do,” he said.
The public is assuredly grateful for his work and that of all health care workers who daily confront COVID-19, sometimes at considerable risk to their own health. The pandemic has layered on additional challenges to an already demanding role, including for Davis and his colleagues in the emergency department. They wear protective suits, masks and face shields for entire shifts.
“It definitely changes everything,” said Grey Gardner, an emergency room nurse at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. “Like wearing the PPE. It’s fatiguing. It just makes everything challenging.”
Nurses and doctors must also contend with the emotional toll of having to comfort frightened patients in the absence of friends or loved ones who are prevented from going inside treatment rooms because of pandemic restrictions.
“We do our best to sit and talk with patients, especially because they don’t have family present, for the most part,” Gardner said.
A nursing instructor at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College, Gardner helped implement new COVID-19 protocols at Sutter to improve safety for its patients and staff.
The guidelines are designed to provide quick intervention for patients who are in respiratory distress while keeping staff safe in the process. Everything from using mechanized devices such as air purifying respirators and best practices for using personal protective gear is thought out well in advance.
“It’s going to sound goofy, but it really never seems scary,” Gardner said. “We’re all medical people, and we know how things get transmitted. We just wear our gear and do what we do.”
Davis and Gardner both have spouses who work in health care. Gardner’s wife, Noreen Nerio, is an ER nurse at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center.
The couple, who have 5-year-old twins, stick to an after-work routine that predates the pandemic. When they get home they disrobe in the garage and put their clothes in the washer. Then it’s off to the shower and fresh clothes before family time.
Talking with the kids about the pandemic is probably the hardest aspect of the times we are living in, Gardner said.
“They hear everything, so they ask questions and they wonder why they can’t play with their kids,” he said.
Davis has worked at Memorial since 2003. His wife, Michelle Davis, is a hospice nurse. The couple have three adult children and two young grandchildren.
Davis described an uptick in the number of depressed and anxious patients he sees in the emergency department since the onset of the pandemic in March. The elderly, he said, are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and fear.
“It’s been difficult for patients who can’t have family around,” he said.
Years from now, Gardner predicts he will look back on the pandemic as a time of teamwork at Sutter, and more broadly, when people came together to help their communities.
Davis is looking forward to getting back to the day-to-day activities he enjoyed prior to stay-at-home orders, such as going to church or gathering for social events.
For now, he relishes being able to take off his mask at the end of a 12-hour shift.
“That feels good,” he said.
Even masked heroes need a break every now and again.