Sue Webber P’17, ’18 is hard-wired for intensity, a vital trait for a 25-year veteran of critical care nursing. She’s worked in emergency rooms and trauma ICUs across Connecticut since 1995. When Sue and her husband, the environmental science teacher and coach Mike Webber, moved to Trinity-Pawling in 2003, she started work at Danbury Hospital and has been there ever since. But even with a quarter century of professional experience, Sue says she has never seen anything like she witnesses daily in the COVID pandemic.
“I was working in the ER tent stationed outside Danbury Hospital in mid-March when the first COVID patient arrived. The next three weeks were surreal. The rate of decline was shocking. People went from feeling poorly to barely able to breathe within a few hours. The ICU became a factory. We converted other hospital units into ICUs and quadrupled our capacity. It’s like a scene from a war movie. Just large open rooms with intubated and sedated patients on ventilators everywhere you look. We spend our shifts in full PPE. We can’t eat, drink, or breathe freely. There’s barely time for a bathroom break because it takes so long to strip out of our PPE.”
Sue works the night shift, donning her protective gear at 7 PM and then peeling it off and placing it into an airtight plastic bag twelve hours later. Over the course of the long night, she and her team do whatever it takes to provide care and compassion for their patients. “We learned from our peers in Italy that patients oxygenate better on their stomachs so we have teams of nurses who go from bed to bed every 16 hours, gently proning and flipping patients like pancakes.” She also facilitates FaceTime conversations – or even visuals – with her patients and their families. “Every patient has an iPad on a stand next to their bed. Families can call in any time and check in on their loved ones.”
Working this pandemic has convinced Sue to leave her position in administration and return to full-time emergency room nursing. “I became a nurse to give care to people, to make a difference. I belong at the bedside, not poring over data and metrics and compliance issues.”
What keeps her sane through these traumatic times? “Knowing that Mike and the kids (Larry, 21; Joe, 20; Veronica, 12) are safe. And taking long walks on my days off to clear my head.”
And although the virus seems to be slowing down, she remains concerned about the next inevitable wave. What can we citizens do to protect ourselves? “Wear your mask in crowded areas, maintain proper hand hygiene, and stay vigilant as the country slowly reopens. This thing is not going away, and until a dependable vaccine is developed, which will take at least a year, we’ve got to be on guard. All we can do is control ourselves.”
Words of wisdom from a front-line veteran.
by Maria Buteux Reade