‘It hit me very hard’
Senior BSN student Annette Lopez understood why senior year milestones needed to be canceled or postponed, but working on a COVID floor has driven it home
The COVID-19 pandemic got very real for Annette Lopez, a senior BSN student, when she showed up for her first shift as a nursing assistant on the cardiac ICU floor at Rush University Medical Center after being off for two weeks.
The floor had been entirely turned over to COVID patients, each one of them intubated. During her shift, one of her patients died, a man who had been hospitalized for several weeks. His wife, who wasn’t allowed in earlier because of a no-visitor policy, had to view his body from behind a door.
“It hit me very hard,” Lopez said. “I’ve had patients die on my floor before. But in those cases, there are sometimes 20 people coming in and saying their last goodbyes, going into ‘family rooms’ and having a cup of coffee. This was very different. [His wife] was distraught and alone. I felt horrible about it all.”
Lopez, who is president of the Urban Health Program College of Nursing Student Association, said she and her classmates had mourned the loss of their senior year, saddened by an abrupt end to in-person classes and clinicals, and missing rites of passage like the traditional pool jump and graduation. Realizing they would likely never again wear their student scrubs, some of them captured what they learned over two years of nursing school with essays on social media.
But Lopez says her work at the hospital crystallized why it was so important to end her senior year with virtual classes and events.
“It’s different seeing this in real life, as opposed to on the news,” she said. “It’s very real. I have no regrets about being in quarantine or having events canceled. The more we distance ourselves, the sooner this will end.”
Lopez says she’s proud to be entering a profession that’s “so needed.”
“Nurses aren’t questioning whether or not to get involved,” she says. “I’m very excited to become a nurse. Last week I was sad about graduation being postponed. Now, I realize how necessary this is more than ever.”