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Everyday Healthcare Heroes: Dispatches from the COVID unit

7OR staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center pictured March 30, 2020

7OR staff members at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center pictured March 30, 2020

When we received Allie Harrison and Nicole Hough’s heartfelt stories for our “Everyday Healthcare Heroes” series, we felt their words perfectly captured the extraordinary courage and compassion of our healthcare workers this past year. We are pleased to share the gift of their stories with you today.  


Q&A with Allie Harrison

What is your job title what do you do?

I work as a Registered Nurse and Clinical Nurse Educator. My primary role is as a bedside nurse, and the educator role is an additional role that I took on about two years ago. Overall, my educator role is to create the safest and most highly functioning environment for our patients and staff. Being your typical "bedside nurse" is what I primarily do shift to shift. As a bedside nurse, I take care of my set group of patients alongside the medical team.

Where do you work?

I work at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The floor I work on is a general medical-surgical floor, so we typically get a wide variety of kids as patients. This past year, our patient population changed a bit as we became the "COVIDs floor" for the hospitalized pediatric patients.

What do you love to do away from work?

Away from work, I love to spend time with my fiance, Coleman (and our new puppy, Pepper!), my close friends, and my family—all with COVID-safe behaviors, of course! I also work as a volunteer assistant cross-country coach for a local high school, which has been such a blessing. It has been a great outlet to work within the community and a way to meet so many amazing new people and create new friendships. I feel that is something important, especially during this past year.

What is the most memorable moment from the past year?

The past year has been filled with so many moments that I will never forget. The day that administration came to our floor and announced that we were becoming the designated "COVID unit" was a moment that has since changed every aspect of my current life. There was a sense of fear that overwhelmed our staff as we were thrown into a situation we couldn't avoid. We all just sort of sat there in silence for a bit. We had no idea what to expect, and we feared the unknown, What would this do to our families, our friends, our lives in the next weeks and months? We lost a lot of staff due to the presence of COVID-19 patients and worked short staffed on increasingly busier and more challenging days. It was emotionally and physically draining.

It was difficult to somehow be people who were simultaneously "heroes," but also people that everyone, including our own friends and family, wanted to avoid. The reaction you get when you tell someone that you take care of COVID patients is interesting. It's something that you want to be proud of, but you're also nervous how people will react and look at you—like you're wearing a scarlet letter. And hey, I get it! I understand where people are coming from, but it is isolating.

As the months progressed and we encountered change after change, we were dealt hands that we didn't expect and had to roll with the punches more times than we would've liked. With each change, we all thought "I can't do that...I can't do this anymore," but somehow here we are. We leaned on each other and supported each other through every up and down. The wave of emotions that came with this pandemic caused us to all hit our breaking point at different times, but we pulled each other through and really became a family for each other. I feel overwhelmed with so many thoughts and feelings as we start to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

What is your key lesson learned in the past year?

Not long ago, a friend told me a quote: "I can do hard things." When we thought we'd hit the end of our rope, we remembered that we CAN do this. That is one of the biggest lessons I've learned over the past year. It seems simple and pretty obvious, but it is something I remind myself of everyday. We can come together as friends, as family, as a team or community, and pull each other through. We are stronger together and we can do hard things!

What women inspire you?

With the past year so prominent in my mind, I am of course inspired by the other women who work in healthcare—I am inspired by my manager who stepped up and lifts us all when we are struggling, who let us cry in her office, and who reminds us to "keep breathing and wash your hands" daily. I'm inspired by the ICU doctors and nurses who work the truly grueling and long hours. I'm inspired by the respiratory therapists who manage all of the respiratory support equipment for the sickest of the sick. I'm inspired by all of the women who hold patients' hands and comfort them in their last moments. I'm inspired by my team at work—especially the mothers who are balancing this crazy work environment with their children out of school. I'm inspired by ALL of the mamas who are doubling as teachers. Overall, I'm inspired by all the women who work for what they want, who are passionate, strong, and resilient. So many women!

What message would you share with the DOLAN community?

We are stronger than we think we are! Let's work toward an environment where we raise each other up, learn from each other, and support each other. Everyone has their unique gifts that, when we work together, can create something amazing!


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Nicole Hough, nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Testimonial from Nicole Hough

I am a circulating nurse in the operating room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, specializing in orthopedic trauma. I’ve been in my current position for four years, and prior to moving to the operating room I worked on an orthopedic/medical-surgical unit for six years.

During the first COVID peak in spring last year, we cancelled all elective procedures, and the OR was left with not a whole lot to do outside of emergent cases. As someone who loves to work and give of myself, I often felt helpless, like I wasn’t doing enough to receive the praise of the public. The first peak was a constant day-to-day change as new precautions, policies, procedures, and recommendations continued to come out.

Eventually COVID-positive patients needing surgical procedures came flooding in and my unit became the “COVID OR”. What would normally be a straight-forward procedure took twice the amount of staff and time than if the patient was not COVID-positive. For a COVID-positive ortho case we would gear up in a lead gown, procedural gown, two pairs of booties, two pairs of gloves, head covers and respirators. We would sometimes do bedside procedures in the ICU when the patient was too sick to transport.

People were scared, people didn’t know the risk they were taking to go into a surgery where we didn’t know enough about a virus we were forced to work with. At one point in the spring I was deployed back to the medical-surgical floor, where I served as a resource to overworked, understaffed, tired nurses doing the real work on the frontlines. I was happy to go where I was needed and help where I could in whatever capacity I was able.

Over the summer and fall things in the OR seemed to normalize, elective cases resumed and things seemed relatively normal. Yet, during the peak of late 2020, I was again deployed from my home unit, but this time to the COVID units. I spent time as a resource and as a primary nurse for COVID and non-COVID patients alike, often bearing any and every task given to me.

Not only was it time spent taking care of COVID patients, but time spent outside my normal routine with my friends and my work family. I became irritable, depressed, and depleted. Frankly I don’t know how anyone has been doing this for a year, I could barely get through six weeks. I have the utmost respect for my fellow nurses who have been working tirelessly to care for these patients, learn new ways of life, and risk their own health and safety every day they work.

DOLAN’S Everyday Healthcare Heroes is an ongoing series featuring some of the women who are working so hard, day in and day out, and making such an enormous difference in our lives. If you are a healthcare worker, please click here to request a questionnaire for sharing your story with us. Or, if you know of someone you’d like to nominate for us to consider spotlighting, please send us their name and contact information. 

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