Voices From the Front Lines: Chelsea McHugh, RN, Emergency Room, LVH–Schuylkill E. Norwegian Street
BY TED WILLIAMS
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care providers who are working to care for patients who are ill with COVID-19, as well as those who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of this virus.
Chelsea McHugh, RN, has been an emergency room nurse at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Schuylkill E. Norwegian Street for eight of her nine years at the hospital. She can trace her interest in medicine back to her childhood when she watched the television show “ER” religiously. She’s always been fascinated by how the human body works and enjoys the opportunity to give back to her community.
What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?
Everyday life as a mother of two as well as an emergency room nurse is always a bit challenging. The COVID-19 crisis has turned the structure of our home life completely upside down. My husband and I became our son’s preschool teachers overnight in the “new classroom,” which is located in my kitchen. In our emergency department, everyday life is surprisingly the same. Yes, there have been some adjustments. We now spend our days speaking through iPads or masks. I believe we all have learned to appreciate an unmasked face after a 12-hour shift.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
COVID-19 has impacted my career in ways I would not have expected. When the virus first came to light, the emergency department had a packed waiting room. In the past few weeks, the number of patients with COVID-19 has decreased. The positive take on this is, as a nurse, I’m once again able to spend some time at the bedside getting to know my patient, while just a short time ago we were focused on caring for many patients with very serious needs.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
When a COVID-19 patient arrives to the ER, the entire team tries to help the primary nurse of the patient. One enduring image I have is of a patient who needed intubation. I looked through the patient’s room window and saw the primary nurse dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE). Taped to the window was a small brown napkin with writing of the equipment, medications and settings used for the patient. I gave a thumb’s up to my colleague to make sure he didn’t need anything, and he held up his hand to say all was good. That’s an insider’s view of how we support each other and care for a person with COVID-19. I’m proud to be part of this team.
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
The crisis has shown me that my team can do amazing things. We always have a way of getting through the tough shifts, but this was an entirely different experience. When multiple patients are critical at the same time, teamwork makes the dream work – doctors managing many seriously ill patients; nurses helping other nurses with PPE; technicians completing a never-ending tasks list and administrative partners who are constantly answering the phone calls.
What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?
Besides the physical steps we all are taking to stay safe, there are things my family does to keep our spirits up during this crisis. I have family video chats with my mother, who lives nearby, and my sister, who lives in Georgia. We chat for hours, more than once a week if possible. My husband and I have come up with an in-house “date night” ritual after our kids are in bed. It includes a great steak and some acoustic entertainment that is livestreamed on Facebook.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?
I would ask my fellow health care workers to slow down for just a second or two and see the magic that is inside every one of us. Everyone is helping or caring for strangers. Everyone is working to improve the patient outcome. And everyone is slightly magical when watched. It is a gift that doesn’t shine bright or glitter in the sun. Caring so selflessly for others fighting COVID-19 can only be described as magic.
Find more inspiring stories from the front lines and beyond at LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG.