In mid-March, Duriya Ayubali ’17 was working as a nurse on a heart and vascular floor at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield when the facility’s first COVID-19 positive patient was identified. Her floor became the first at Baystate dedicated to COVID-19 patients and she’s been on the front lines ever since, treating the sickest patients on a daily basis.
Once a cardio-vascular nurse, she now proudly considers herself a COVID-19 nurse.
“These people need me, and I’m honored to take care of them,” she says. “You have to stay positive. The bottom line is, this is my job. If I don’t want to do this, I shouldn’t be a nurse.”
Despite the stress, Ayubali is quick to talk about the positive aspects of her situation, including the fact that she is always learning to do her job better, and doing so with the help of her colleagues. A student in the Master of Science in Nursing, Public Health Program, she is also directly applying what she learned in the classroom to real life.
“I’m glad we were one of the first places to start treating these patients because we’re all learning as we go along. You just have to adapt. There’s a lot of room for new ideas, and new methods of considering public health nursing. It’s taken some time, but now we know how to handle our patients better,” she says.
She credits her Worcester State professors, including Assistant Professor Cheryl Hersperger, Ph.D., with teaching her to look at the nursing profession differently, providing a conceptual foundation of public health, and “giving me confidence to go beyond what I think I’m capable of.”
Intensive infection control procedures have become second nature, more than a month into this new normal.
“Of course, you have to keep PPE (personal protection equipment) in mind for your own protection, but it just becomes part of your routine. It’s better to learn now rather than later because we’re going to be with this for a while,” Ayubali says.
One of the most important parts of her job is becoming a substitute support system for patients who are fighting the disease without family and friends by their bedside.
“Social contact is important for healing. With the ‘no family or visitors’ policy, that is difficult. I encourage my COVID-19 patients to talk to their families, and I make sure they are able to talk to them on the phone or through Zoom. And they appreciate what you do,” she says.
As soldiers might bond in the heat of battle, all those who make up the critical infrastructure of a care system are helping each other cope, relating on a different level through this intensive—and unexpected—shared experience.
“I feel stress, but I’m not the only one who is suffering. It’s not just the nurses or the doctors. It’s the environmentalists who have to clean the bathrooms, the phlebotomists who draw blood, the respiratory therapists who help patients breath, the dieticians who feed them and the social workers who have to find aftercare placements for those who recover, when nobody wants to take them for fear they are still infected. They don’t always get recognized and they are also doing a good job,” Ayubali says. “Even IT people, who I have to help when a computer goes down because they have to try to fix it remotely. They also have a huge role, and they are scared too. Everybody is doing something.”
Caregivers must remember to address their own mental health, especially with the expectation that these work conditions will continue for months, and they will get worse before getting better.
“We take infection control very seriously because we want to stay healthy for our patients. Some of us shower as soon as we get home, and sleep in different rooms to protect our families. We keep exercising at home to boost our immune system, and eat healthy. I watch TV to destress. I cry as well, but I come back because that’s what we do. It hurts me, but I know we have to get back to work,” she says.
The gestures of appreciation from the community, mostly sent in the form of food to feed the staff, is having the intended effect. “We feel loved,” she says, although she notes with a laugh that sometimes the delicious chocolates and other sweets makes it hard to keep to a healthy diet.
In the end, the crisis has only reinforced her commitment to a difficult but essential role in healthcare.
“When I see these patients dying, I think, I could be one of them. I put myself in a position where I can take care of them. It’s my job, and that’s why I’m doing this,” she says.
In the photo: Duriya Ayubali ’17, standing at far left, with her colleagues at Baystate Medical Center.