BELOIT — Patients fighting to survive, dwindling hospital supplies and 50-plus hour work weeks.
Those are just some of the things witnessed by Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse Malori Hinchen as the Beloit native has traveled to hospitals across the country as states struggle to cope with a vicious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hinchen, 34, has been a nurse for the better part of a decade, but this year everything changed when the pandemic struck.
“Since March, I have worked on units that were created specifically to care for COVID-19 patients, both positive or suspected positive,” she said. “How I care for my patients has not changed much, but it looks different because we have to wear personal protective equipment.”
After leaving Beloit Memorial Hospital in the spring, Hinchen has worked as a traveling ICU nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, MedStar Washington Hospital Center in D.C., and SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City. She’s currently stationed at Community Regional Medical Center and the Fresno Heart and Surgical Center in Fresno, California.
“I care for the sickest patients in the hospital,” Hinchen said. “I complete my assessments and care for my patients accordingly. My patients require constant monitoring and may be on several medications that I have to continuously monitor. Some of my patients require ventilator support.”
At the various places she’s worked in 2020, Hinchen said medical teams have had to be more deliberate with how supplies are used due to shortages, coupled with the seemingly never-ending fight against COVID-19.
“There’s a heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty because we are face-to-face with the virus,” Hinchen said. “We want to do our best to care for our patients and send them home to their families at the same time we want go home to our families without getting them sick.”
Hinchen said its incredibly frustrating to see people disregard social distancing or mask requirements because she’s often at the bedside of the most ill COVID-19 patients trying to care for them as they cling to life.
“I see the other side of things,” she said. “I see people fighting for their lives struggling to breathe, completely isolated in a hospital room and them being aware that they may not get any better despite our interventions and efforts. Some people just won’t believe it until they see it or experience (the virus). I could just tell them a little bit about my experience.”
As she cares for patients, Hinchen said it’s small victories that help keep her motivated.
“I am always grateful when a patient starts to improve, no matter how small or when they actually beat the virus,” Hinchen said. “When a patient gets removed from a ventilator or requires less oxygen or transfers out of the ICU, it makes it all worth it. They are a living testament to the struggles of this virus and so many others won’t have the chance to tell their stories.”
As the pandemic wears on, Hinchen said she’s learned to “value my health and find joy in the small things.”
“I laugh a little more because you never know when everything could change,” Hinchen said. “I have learned to actually live my life and take advantage of the time that I have in the land of the living because you never know. You just never know.”