COVID-19 response: UofSC nurses battle pandemic on front lines

College of Nursing students and alumni contribute to state’s health during challenging times

It’s a challenging time to be a nurse. Serving on the front lines of a pandemic, nurses are not only tasked with helping COVID-19 patients — they’re also tasked with doing it in full protective gear and while simultaneously managing non-COVID patients.

Pamela Wright, who’s pursuing her doctorate in nursing science, works as an emergency room nurse in Columbia, testing and stabilizing potential COVID-19 cases along with treating typical emergencies. 

“Apart from COVID-19, we have the usual medical emergencies coming in — (gastrointestinal) bleeds, respiratory issues, sprained ankles — it’s across the board as to what will come through the door. It is nonstop, never a time you don’t have a patient,” Wright says. 

College of Nursing alumna Haley Griggs is also an emergency room nurse treating COVID-19 patients in Columbia, ranging from the very ill who need to be intubated to those experiencing flu-like symptoms.

“The majority of the severely ill are elderly with multiple comorbidities, but we have seen a few younger patients who are severely ill as well,” Griggs says.

As College of Nursing students and alumni grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the values they’ve learned at the University of South Carolina are helping them through these challenging circumstances.

The University of South Carolina College of Nursing has trained more than 10,000 nurses since becoming the state’s first nationally accredited baccalaureate nursing program in 1957. The college aims to instill in its students the values of diversity, inclusivity, commitment, caring, integrity, respect and professionalism. All that adds up to strength and resilience in the workplace.

It’s a very rewarding career. You are with people on their best and their worst days. I enjoy being an advocate for my patients.

Haley Griggs, '15 nursing

Griggs wants to reassure those with genuine emergencies that it is safe to come to the emergency room at this time.

“This is not the time to come to the ER for a pregnancy test or a medication refill,” she says. “However, there are people who actually need emergency care but are avoiding it out of fear. Those are the people who need to come in. We are doing an excellent job of isolating COVID patients.”

All health care workers must take precautions against becoming infected by the coronavirus patients they are treating. This is where personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and suits become necessary. 

Both Griggs and Wright note that while PPE is a necessity, it can be cumbersome.

“It can be exhausting working in these areas since you are dressed in full PPE and isolated from others. Simple things like taking a bathroom break or a sip of water turn into a 10-minute event where you have to doff and don PPE before leaving the area and upon returning,” Griggs says.

Wright describes her powered air-purifying respirator suit as her “costume” of sorts — complete with a helmet, gown, gloves and suit with a battery pack for pumping air into the gown.

She notes that at particularly hectic moments, nurses are not even able to take breaks that would require removing the suit.

“While you are at work, oftentimes you are not able to eat or even go to the bathroom,” Wright says. “You have to take advantage of the moments you can do that and take care of yourself. Also, our senses are limited by the protective equipment we have to treat our patients in. It can be difficult to talk to a COVID-19 patient and hear them when you have on a face shield and mask.”

Griggs and Wright say this health care crisis has bought their roles as patient advocates to the forefront.

“It’s a very rewarding career. You are with people on their best and their worst days. I enjoy being an advocate for my patients,” Griggs says.

Because coronavirus patients are isolated, nurses also try to provide the comfort that would come from family members.

“Sometimes we have to fill in for family because they can’t be there. We have a great team, and the people who are there care. We understand the fear and anxiety and don’t take that lightly,” Wright says.

Despite the challenges they face, Griggs and Wright say they and others feel the community’s support for them and are grateful.

“The community has done an excellent job of coming around us and supporting us. We’ve had food catered almost every shift. We’ve had handmade cards sent in by children and have had all types of supplies donated,” Griggs says.

“Thank you to the people and restaurants that have donated food, cleaning supplies and donations,” Wright says. “I don’t know if they know how much that is appreciated. We truly appreciate that.”

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about