L to R: Hope Davenport, BSN/RN and Leigh Ann Carter, LPN. Photo by Zachary Dailey, Dailey Life Photography.

Local Nurses Share Their Pandemic Experience

When Hope Davenport was growing up with her two brothers in Ranburne, Ala., they spent every summer with their elderly grandparents. Even at a young age, Hope knew she wanted to be a nurse. “I always felt like I needed to take care of my grandparents,” she says. “Being a nurse is definitely a calling. I’ve always wanted to help people.” 

Hope still lives in Ranburne with her husband of 18 years, Doug, and her three boys, Eli, 16, Drew, 13 and Sam, 11.

She began working as a nurse tech for Tanner Health System in October 1998 when she was 19 years old. While working at Tanner, she went back to school to become an LPN and, later, an RN. In 2016, she graduated from the University of West Georgia with her bachelor of science in nursing. She is now the nurse manager for Tanner at 3 West and the Outpatient Infusion Center.

Working during the pandemic has been challenging for healthcare workers across the nation. Here, it is no different. “Things have changed a lot,” she says. “I like to hug people. It’s so hard to not be able to hug people anymore. Many of our processes have changed in the hospital and everything is so different now. There are just so many unknowns.”

Due to the large volume of communication Hope receives on a day-to-day basis, her biggest challenge has been keeping her staff and coworkers up-to-date on changes and new recommendations from the CDC. Understandably, there has been additional stress on the patients who have contracted the novel coronavirus and the staff.

Healthcare workers are placing themselves at risk each time they interact with a COVID-19 patient. But Hope says she is just doing what she was called to do. 

“It’s our job. It’s what we do. It’s why we go to school to learn,” she shares. “The patients are afraid – especially during all of this. They can’t have their family up here with them. I don’t know them, but I always want to take care of my patients like I would want somebody to take care of my family or me. We just don’t ever know when any of us could be in that position.”

She is emotional when she talks about the tremendous outpouring of community support the hospital staff has received. 

“The donations, the masks, the food, the hero signs, it’s just been amazing, it truly has,” she shares. “It’s unbelievable. There was a lady who was kind enough to bring us these little devotional books. Carroll EMC came and hung their American flag. We are just so thankful for everything the community has done for us. It really felt as if we were all off to war together here. I’ve seen Army veterans in public and I always want to thank them for their service. I had someone thank me in a store recently and it took me by surprise. I thought, ‘Well that’s just what we do, you know?’ Everything the community has done for us has been very humbling.”

Hope says this experience has brought the Tanner family closer together. “The clinical support staff, respiratory therapy, radiology, pharmacy, environmental services and food and nutrition staff members worked together as one big team to do what needed to be done to help care for these patients,” she says. “We all have a whole new appreciation for the different roles and responsibilities that each of us have.” 

Hope has been saving pictures and wants to make a keepsake book to document everything that has happened over the last few months. 

“My coworkers and I have discussed this. Who would have ever thought that we would be a nurse in a global pandemic?” she exclaims. “I am absolutely, without a doubt, thankful to be a nurse during this time. As hard as it’s been, I look at it as history; something we will remember many years down the road. One day, I will tell my grandchildren about how thankful I was to work for Tanner and how proud I was to be a part of this. I’m thankful every day to be a nurse. I still wouldn’t change my career choice for anything – even after all this.”

Leigh Ann Carter, LPN, loves interacting with people from all walks of life, so it was only natural for her to pursue a career in nursing. “I felt like nursing was what God was calling me to do. It was not only a way to get to know people, but maybe in some way, touch their lives,” she shares. After graduating from West Georgia Technical College, Leigh Ann began her nursing career when she was 21 years old. 

She lives in Bremen, Ga., with her husband, Kyle, and their children, Jake, 8, and Eva, 2. She has worked for Tanner for over 13 years and works in the Med Surg Float Pool. If a nurse calls in or if there’s a floor that is short-staffed, Leigh Ann fills in wherever she is needed. 

Leigh Ann has worked primarily in the COVID unit since the beginning of the pandemic. She thrives on personal interaction with her patients – something that has been challenging due to the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) she is required to wear for her own safety.

“We are, literally, gowned from head to toe,” she explains. “When you go in a patient’s room, all they see is your eyes. I’ve definitely had to adjust and be a lot more intentional with patients and their families. I’ve tried to find more ways to still give my patients that personal care, comfort them and assure them during this time because they’re terrified and they can’t be with their family. This is such an unknown thing that we’re dealing with. Also, I’ve tried to be more intentional in dealing with families. 

“Reassuring families through this has been a huge thing, because they’re not there. They’re not looking at ‘mama’ or ‘daddy’ and cannot see that they’re OK. They’re literally relying on us and what we’re telling them. We recognize that is a huge responsibility and have hopefully risen to the challenge.”

Sometimes, no matter how much comfort and assurance nurses give their patients, they cannot save them. One reminder of the pandemic that will stay with Leigh Ann her entire life is of an elderly man whose prognosis was not good – the doctors knew he wasn’t going to make it.

“This was heartbreaking for two reasons,” she says with emotion. “The first was realizing that he was by himself. On the other side of it, he and his wife had been married for many years. There was the heartache of knowing that she could not be there by his side. She did not think she was going to be able to tell him goodbye in person. We were able to gown her up and bring her there, and that was such an honor. Being able to facilitate that was probably the most heartbreaking moment in my nursing career. I’ll always remember her just being so thankful that she was able to hold that man’s hand whom she had been married to for so long and to be able to say her goodbyes.” 

While she was comforting and reassuring her COVID-19 patients and their families, Leigh Ann had her own concerns about the unknowns of the virus. “Many of the sicknesses that we deal with, there have been so many studies on them and a lot of information, so you feel very prepared in dealing with those,” she explains. “I think it’s the unknowns of this disease that have been the most difficult: the progression of the illness, the treatment and how to protect yourself.”

When anyone asked her if they could help, she only asked them to pray for the protection of her family. “It is an honor, a joy and a privilege to be able to care for these patients during this time, but as a mother and as a wife, I was terrified of bringing something home to my family,” she shares. “A lot of prayer was involved.”

Leigh Ann is deeply touched by the outpouring of support from the community. Just knowing they have recognized the work she and her coworkers have been doing has been humbling for her. “I think I speak for most nurses when I say we do this because we love it, not because we want any recognition,” she says. “We’re used to being behind the scenes and we’re ok with that. It’s been very humbling to see the community recognize us.”

She says if she could describe the coronavirus pandemic in one word, it would be “rewarding,” and she is thankful to be a nurse during this time – no matter how challenging it’s been.

“Twenty years from now, this is going to be something you’re going to read about in the history books – the pandemic in our world,” she shares. 

“I hope one day my kids will be able to tell their children with pride, ‘My mom was a part of that and she helped those people during that time.’ I think it will be amazing to one day be able to tell our grandkids that I was able to work directly with COVID patients during a pandemic. It’s been an honor and a privilege.” WGW

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