Being a nurse is about more than caring for patients. It’s about connecting with them.

But COVID-19 has thrown plenty of nurses a curveball, as they find themselves suiting up in Personal Protective Gear (PPE) before tending to patients, which is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus.

“It’s our job to make sure they feel cared for and safe,” said Angelic Dixon, Interim Nurse Director at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center’s Respiratory Isolation Unit. “Having to put on a gown, goggles, mask and gloves before going in to talk with a patient and ask how they are doing and feeling made me realize how much we communicate without even speaking.”

Angelic and her team were determined nothing could curb compassion – or bonding with their patients. Located in an isolated area on the seventh floor of the Melbourne hospital, this is where potential and confirmed COVID-19 patients are being treated.

So the team got creative.

“You don’t realize how much you rely on a smile or your eyes or face changes when you are speaking to people to let them know the feelings and intent behind your words,” Angelic said. “When they can’t see you are smiling beneath the mask, it makes you think differently, and it’s like learning a whole new communication style.”

Angelic’s team – made up of about 100 Health First associates who volunteered to care for some of the hospital’s sickest patients – developed many ways to try to make sure people feel connected with their nurses, even when they aren’t in the room. Patients are equipped with iPads to call nurses and see them at their station, or they can use their iPhones – equipped with a secure application – to reach out to their care team. Also, leaders call into the room every day to let patients know they can always reach out.

In addition, nurses have been spending extra time with these isolated patients, making sure they not only have what they physically need, but socially, too, during an emotionally trying time. The unit is equipped to care for up to 41 people. “We know we are the only people they are going to see today,” Angelic said. “These patients need even more TLC because they can’t get up and walk around the hospital floors.”

So far, the response about nurses’ efforts has been phenomenal.

The mother of a college senior and high school senior, Angelic was asked to serve in this new role, helping to set up the Respiratory Isolation Unit. Normally, Angelic is based at Health First’s Cape Canaveral Hospital as the Nurse Manager in the Intensive Care Unit. She developed education, processes and more for those working in the unit, bringing together a team of critical care nurses, registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and monitor techs from across the Integrated Delivery Network.

While Angelic’s leaders commend her dedication and drive to care for some of the hospital’s sickest patients, she is in awe of associates who jumped right in to help. She also said the outpouring of community support has kept up the spirits of everyone tending to COVID-19 patients.

“This experience has completely changed me. I appreciate things now that I never knew I needed,” Angelic said. “The team that has come together here has humbled me. I don’t know where it will go in the future — but I can’t wait to see what they all do. This experience has changed all of them in ways that has made us all better in some way. The camaraderie that has developed in this environment is unlike anything I have ever seen.” •

Health First

Founded in 1995, Health First is Brevard County's not-for-profit, community healthcare system. The fully Integrated Delivery Network (IDN) includes health insurance plans, hospitals, a multi-specialty medical group, and outpatient and wellness services.