Fun in the Sun
Keeping Spirits High
Forever Helping Others
BB: You are a registered nurse specializing in hematology/oncology at Sloan Kettering in NYC. What inspired you to go into this line of work? *
Katherine: After becoming an EMT and hospital volunteer in high school, I knew I wanted to be a nurse and help people. I worked alongside other young professionals to create a fund for pediatric oncology patients in Monmouth County, and ever since then, oncology nursing has proven to be the most rewarding career I could have ever chosen.
BB: You now work in the COVID-19 unit. Is this full time or do you still have responsibilities in the hematology/oncology unit?
Katherine: My unit has temporarily moved all hematology/oncology patients to other floors in the hospital and taken on caring for non-critical COVID patients. We will assume this role until things normalize.
BB: How does a work day in the COVID unit differ from the h/o unit?
Katherine: Nursing is a very hands-on, interactive career, but we have had to adapt due to COVID. We have found new ways of communication outside of the room to limit contact, and try to limit the time spent in each room whenever possible. It has also taught us healthcare professionals better time management and organization.
BB: How many patients do you see in a day? What is the doctor/patient ratio?
Katherine: Since we currently do not cohort patients in double rooms, working on a COVID unit has changed our nurse-patient ratios. In the past couple weeks, our floor nurses have had 1-2 patients a shift, which varies from our usual 2-4 patients per nurse ratios.
BB: Many people get sick with corona virus, but never enter the hospital. At what point does someone need to be hospitalized?
Katherine: Oncology patients have much more suppressed immune systems than the average person. From my experience, I’ve found that the shortness of breath/new oxygen requirement and uncontrolled fevers are what most commonly bring our patient population in. If stable, we do try to send people to quarantine in the comfort of their own homes whenever possible!
BB: What are the most common symptoms of the COVID patients you treat? What is the average age?
Katherine: Although it varies, on our floor particularly, we see a lot of middle aged men and women. The most common symptoms in the patients I have treated personally have been shortness of breath with exertion and general fatigue.
BB: As patients are isolated from their loved ones, is it incumbent on you to spend additional time comforting patients? Are you trained for this?
Katherine: We really do try to limit the amount of time spent in each room to decrease exposure, but as a nurse, it is hard to leave an isolated patient without feeling the need to comfort them. We encourage facetime and phone calls with family, multitask and talk to the patients while completing necessary tasks, and call into the room often to check in. I also like to get them out of bed, washed up and into the chair in the room early in the day for a change of scenery.
BB: If there is one memory from this experience that stands above the others?
Katherine: What I will remember most from this experience is how much the community and my unit especially have come together. This pandemic has shown me how incredible the teamwork on my unit is, and how close I am with so many of my coworkers. I could never have gotten through this without them and the support of so many others.
BB: What is the most difficult part of the job?
Katherine: The most difficult part of the job currently would have to be watching these patients in a vulnerable time with no family or loved ones with them. Being in the hospital is already such a stressor on these patients, and during the pandemic they have had to be alone and isolated.
BB: Have you been out on the streets of New York at 7:00pm to hear the cheers of love and gratitude for you and your colleagues? If so, how did it make you feel?
Katherine: It is so incredible to see a big city together all at once to cheer on frontliners. It has been going on for weeks and the energy is indescribable. It gives me chills every time.
BB: As a nurse, you probably had good habits in preventing the spread of germs. Have you added any “best practices”?
Katherine: I think the universal use of masks in public areas has really helped decrease the spread of the virus tremendously. We implemented this early on in the hospitals and you could see the results instantly.
BB: What do you do to take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually?
Katherine: I have really turned to prayer during this time, and as a unit, we pray every morning when we huddle with all the nurses for the day. As per my home life, I try to exercise daily, cook fun new recipes, and focus on self care. Facetime calls and playing interactive games like Code Names, trivia, and Scattergories during them have also become a new hobby!
BB: You had coronavirus. Do you know where you contracted it? Can you tell us your experience? Symptoms, isolating, number of days sick, who cared for you, etc.?
Katherine: It is impossible to know how I got it, but my biggest guess is public transportation. I was shocked to find out what I thought was a sinus infection was actually coronavirus, but after a few weeks of isolation, I recovered. I quarantined at home for 20 days and was sick for almost a week and a half. I started out with sinus pressure and headaches, and throughout my time, I had minor muscle aches, slight shortness of breath with exertion, and general fatigue. Everyone associates COVID 19 with a cough, but I never experienced this symptom.
BB: After you got better, you donated your plasma. Can you tell us the purpose of that?
Katherine: After a Negative swab and some blood work, I was able to donate my recovered plasma for use in patients sick with COVID 19. The goal is that the antibodies in my plasma will help others fight off the disease, and I truly hope that is the case!
BB: What is your best advice for the general population?
Katherine: My best advice is for everyone to continue to be cautious. I think things will start to normalize with time, but keep washing your hands, wear a mask in high risk places, and it never hurts to maintain a healthy distance. And as always, isolate if you feel any symptoms.
BB: If you weren’t a nurse, what type of work would you do?
Katherine: I truly can’t imagine any other job. I love what I do. I have so much important knowledge about every day life and safety, and I also get to help people. There is nothing more rewarding than that.
BB: What is your favorite charity?
Katherine: A charity I am a part of and really resonate with is Covenant House. It helps homeless and trafficked youth transform their lives and put them on the right path to independence.
BB: Once the shelter in place order is lifted, what is the first thing you’ll do?
Katherine: I just can’t wait to responsibly spend time with friends and loved ones. Times like these really remind you how much we rely on human interaction.
*Disclaimer: These answers are opinions of Katherine Barrett and do not represent Sloan Kettering
(Posted: June 2020)