When COVID-19 permeated every aspect of our lives, nurses were especially hard hit. They worked to do more with less under evolving CDC guidelines while grappling with the pandemic’s effects on their own mental health. It was understandable that nursing burnout soared over the past three years. The nursing shortage was challenging before COVID-19, but worsened as many nurses stepped away from the field, or left it altogether.
But not Patti Thompson, a nurse at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Bakersfield. When her hospital first designated an isolation wing for COVID-19 patients, Thompson volunteered without hesitation. “I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to go and help them,” she said.
More Risks, New Challenges
Many of the patients coming to Encompass Health hospitals suffered from severely diminished respiratory function because of the virus and were on ventilators prior to admission into inpatient rehabilitation. Thompson and her colleagues were facing an uphill battle in a world of uncertainty. “Over the past three years we’ve learned a lot. It was something that we didn’t expect, and we’d never dealt with,” she said.
“There’s a challenge of being able to get off oxygen. Even getting out of bed would cause them such distress.”
Michael Marquez was one of those patients. After a long battle with COVID and double pneumonia, Marquez struggled to breathe, speak and eat. Attempts to stand on his own zapped all of his energy, leaving him unable to care for himself. With his strong desire to recover and return home to his family, Marquez took the advice of a family member and chose Encompass Health Bakersfield for inpatient rehabilitation.
When he arrived, Marquez was dealing with what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. “From the first night I got here, they told me I was going to stand for five seconds. I told them they were crazy,” Marquez said. “I couldn’t do it without help. I was upset that I couldn’t do it.”
Thompson is accustomed to seeing patients struggle at first, and giving them the encouragement they need to push through their most difficult moments. Marquez recalls that Thompson was the first nurse he met when he arrived at Encompass Health. Her positivity left an impression on Marquez. “I set goals every day after that,” he said.
As Marquez made progress—everything from learning to speak and eat again to standing and walking—Thompson was there to cheer him on. “Every step of the way he was challenged,” Thompson recalled. “We had to keep telling him to keep going, you can do this.” Throughout his stay, Thompson also developed a relationship with Marquez’s wife and helped her navigate his care as she prepared for his homecoming. Despite her busy days working with patients throughout the hospital, Thompson always had time for Marquez.
“Even though she wasn’t on my wing she would come and check on me every day that I was here just to see how I was doing. You don’t get that everywhere,” Marquez said.
Making a Connection
Throughout COVID, Encompass Health hospitals followed CDC safety guidelines, including temporarily suspending visitors. Thompson stepped up to connect patients with their loved ones even when they couldn’t come inside the building. “All the family members could be outside and look in and use cell phones to speak.” Thompson went above and beyond by moving beds and chairs in rooms if needed for patients to be positioned with a view to their window if they had visitors coming. “That was one thing that I felt was very important to do is to make sure they have that connection,” she said. These window visits were encouraging for patients like Marquez, who had been separated from family for weeks, or even months.
The Return was Much Sweeter
Marquez continues to heal at home surrounded by his loved ones. He hasn’t forgotten Thompson and the empathy she showed him during his stay. A few weeks after Marquez returned home, he and his wife visited Encompass Health Bakersfield to show their appreciation to Thompson and his care team. Marquez walked inside on his own to greet Thompson and deliver cookies, a stark difference from when he first entered the building . Thompson could hardly hold in her enthusiasm. “We try to work with patients as best we can and let them know that they have hope. It was so exciting to see him walk in here, and not have oxygen, and be fully present and healthy looking,” she said.