Trinity-Pawling community member Aniece Collins

As a pediatric nurse, Aniece Collins P’23 has spent 19 years caring for infants and children hospitalized for an injury or an acute illness. They arrive, they heal, they leave.

In late March, she was pulled from her pediatric work to serve as a nurse in the COVID ICU at Danbury Hospital. “I took a one-day crash course, an intensive up-training, followed by two straight days of studying to prepare for my new responsibilities.”

Aniece admits she was nervous entering her first night shift in this new territory of adult care. “It was a totally different population from pediatrics. I was meeting new staff; I didn’t know where things were. Talk about stressful!” Not to mention the dangers of the virus itself.

Fortunately, she had Sue Webber P’17, ’18, her friend and Trinity-Pawling neighbor, as her wing woman. “Sue took me around and showed me the ropes. She’s like the mayor of Danbury Hospital! She knows everyone and how to get things done. Sue gave me the confidence to make the leap from pediatrics into adult ICU, in less than three days.”

Aniece adapted quickly. “I had to completely relearn 19 years of pediatrics training and shift to a new mindset. Children and adults on ventilators have vastly different lung capacities and respiratory rates. And pediatric medications are given incrementally based on weight. Adult COVID patients receive a much higher dosage of meds, and they often arrive with complex co-morbidity factors such as diabetes or high blood pressure. I had to learn to read and react differently to these situations. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting.”

Whether tending children or adults, Aniece remains fiercely protective of her patients. “I’m a nurse and caregiver. I don’t have a choice, I just keep going. Doing nothing is not an option. These are human beings who deserve the most profound respect. I never forget my patients’ faces. I look at the photographs taped on the wall of my patients and their families. I find comfort in washing my patients’ faces, rubbing their feet, massaging their legs and back. I talk nonstop to them, saying their names, knowing or hoping they can hear me, so they feel a little less alone and scared. I try to make a connection. I hold their hand, give them comfort. I believe in the power of touch to bring hope and healing.”

Small victories include taking a person off the sedation meds, and watching her eyes open, and seeing that person come back into the world. “It’s gratifying when my patient looks at me and I know they can hear and sense my presence. That keeps me going,”

Aniece and her husband, Dean of Students Josh Collins ’95, made the hard decision to have Josh move with their three children to their home in Westerly, Rhode Island. “I miss them terribly but we talk every night. At least I know they’re safe. Returning to my home on campus provides the quiet time I need for recovery. No beeping, no monitors. I take walks, get fresh air, work in our garden. Try to catch up on sleep. My life is a series of short naps.”

Sleep well, Aniece. Your patients are counting on you to take care of them.

by Maria Buteux Reade