The American Nurses Association is celebrating nurses for the entire month of May. Globally, the nursing profession is celebrating a milestone in 2020, as the World Health Organization declares it the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.
Mary Ellen DeLoach’s mother was a nurse at Augusta University Medical Center, so she grew up in the halls of the hospital and even became a candy-striper at age 12.
Once when they were growing up, her sister broke her arm and had to wear an ACE wrap. DeLoach remembers wanting to practice wrapping people’s arms and legs after that experience.
“I still love wrapping people up and doing dressings,” she said.
Fast-forward to December 2014, DeLoach started working at AUMC as a registered nurse with Perioperative Services in the post-anesthesia care unit. She has worked in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in the clinic since January 2019.
A typical day for her includes working with four surgeons and three physician assistants. They have clinic daily and do dressing take-downs, take pictures and measures, and then redress the area to include vacuum-assisted closure of wounds, removing sutures, staples and drains, as well as staying educated on wound care.
“We make sure all the collected information gets entered into the patient’s chart. This information is used to track progress and also for insurance submission,” DeLoach said. “We also get the wound VACs approved for scheduled surgeries and forward clinic notes to maintain medical necessity for continued approval. We also help set up home health care for scheduled surgeries. We obtain all medical records for outside facilities. We also do a lot of phone triage with our patients. We want to keep them out of the office and hospital as much as possible.”
DeLoach said she loves being out in the community and “being a face for AU,” which is why she volunteered at Patriots Park, Emergency Room testing tent, Christenberry Fieldhouse and on 7South when the AUMC started reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She is now in the Atlanta area helping with the National Guard, an opportunity she said she jumped at after her nursing manager asked whether she would be interested. DeLoach said most of her career has been that of a travel nurse, so she was used to picking up and moving rather quickly.
“I left two days later for Atlanta and right now I am located at the Georgia Guard Armory in Decatur, with the 170th Military Police Battalion,” DeLoach said. “Our guardsman have been incredible. We tell them the setup we need, and they make it happen. We tell them the supplies that we need, and they make it happen. I have always loved our military men and women, so it has been a very special experience to have this chance to work with them directly.”
DeLoach’s days are generally starting around 7:30 in the morning, and she works closely with the 170th Military Police Battalion to let them know about expected numbers and make sure they have the correct supplies on hand and ready for the day’s specimen collections.
She has only knowingly worked with a handful of COVID-19 positive patients, but she explains how some of the patients were having trouble talking because of their shortness of breath.
“It just makes your own lungs hurt,” DeLoach said. “And then there are the patients coming in to be screened that either have loved ones positive for the virus or have died with the virus. You can just feel their fear and anxiety. It is palpable.”
DeLoach says it might sound unusual but despite all this, she hasn’t experienced increased stress during the pandemic, at least none that she’s noted.
“However, being in downtown Atlanta listening to national based program music while watching the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds fly overhead, I felt the tears start to form. To think that these military men and women, that put their lives on the line every time they get into these fighter planes, is flying to honor us. It was just a little overwhelming, because to me I just doing my job.”
Before the pandemic began, DeLoach enjoyed being a part of the Plastics family because “we do such amazing things that change a patient’s life forever.”
“We help take a bad diagnosis, cancer, and help the patient see that there can be a sense of normality once it’s all said and done. I love seeing my patients through the process. We grow close during it all. It’s almost strange when you don’t see them anymore, but what happiness to know that their life may now go on.”
Working on the frontlines during the pandemic has allowed her to get out and educate each person she has interacted with at the various sites.
“I can tell when something is now making sense to them. I try to form a relationship with each vehicle that comes through,” she said. “Even if it’s only a two-minute meeting, you have left a mark on that person. Hopefully they will remember me fondly, as the AU nurse that helped ease their fears, and made them smile, at a time they need it the most.”
As Nurses Week begins, DeLoach wants to find any way she can to uplift her colleagues.
“To my AU nurses, and really to all of our staffers because we all know that this is a team sport, it is an honor and privilege to be a part of your team and family,” she said. “We don’t always have easy jobs and we don’t always have good days. But remember, you have left an impression on everyone that you have come into contact with. Let it be one of empathy.”