Voices From the Front Lines: Magdalena Lipski, BS, RRT, LVH–Cedar Crest
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.
Magdalena Lipski has worked at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest as a respiratory therapist for the last 15 years. A native of Poland, she moved to the U.S. in 1995 and attended University of Central Florida. Uncertain of a field of study, she came upon respiratory care, which doesn’t exist in her home country, and discovered her calling.
What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?
I know it’s far from over, but I personally went through several stages of what I call COVID-19 grief. First there was denial: I initially thought, ”This is just a respiratory virus.”
Then came fear: fear for our patients, my colleagues, myself and my family. In the early stages of the pandemic, I would repeatedly think about the steps of removing personal protective equipment (PPE) and make sure I didn’t make the slightest mistake and contaminate myself. The thought of bringing this virus home was paralyzing.
Later, there was anger and sadness: These feelings were rooted in caring for so many very sick patients and our inability to help some of them, despite all our efforts. Extubating my first COVID-19 patient gave me hope and motivation to keep going.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
At the beginning, the experience became almost war zone-like. The whole team, including respiratory therapists, doctors, nurses, technical partners and physical therapists, have worked endlessly on patient after patient who were sicker than we have ever seen before. Our bodies would ache after multiple pronings (physically moving patients to a prone position on their stomachs). Our hearts hurt to see them suffer and struggle to breathe. I had to accept that was the new normal, and I was meant to be there to help these patients.
Working primarily in COVID-19 intensive care units (ICUs), I don’t get to see the patients when they are discharged home. But the first time I heard the U2 song “It’s a Beautiful Day” on the hospital announcement system when a COVID-19 patient was discharged, I shed some happy tears for them.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
I was inspired by the love and support of our community. I personally received countless gifts of prayers, well-wishes, PPE, homemade masks and even bottles of wine from family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers. Seeing the support through lawn signs, handwritten cards, parades and simple things, like free food and coffee, is always very heartwarming to me and my colleagues.
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
I learned that you never know how strong you are until it’s your only option. You see families saying goodbye or grieving the loss of their loved one via FaceTime. Those are images that will stay with me for the rest of my life. You see nurses barely holding up phones as they cried with the families. You are so frustrated, wishing we had more answers on why some patients do so well and why some patients get extremely sick. Still, we’re all there every day to do whatever we can to defeat COVID-19.
What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?
I am extremely vigilant about making sure this virus stays away from my family. After every ICU shift, I change from scrubs at work before I go home. My shoes don’t ever go past my garage. When I enter my house, I immediately shower and wash my scrubs. I must say, at the beginning, I was even afraid to hug my kids after the shower. But with time, we all came to know that hugs only come after that routine is completed.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?
Please wear your mask if you are in public and wash your hands as often as possible. It’s not a big sacrifice. You may be asymptomatic, but a person you’re close to who has a weakened immune system may lose their life because of COVID-19.
Find more inspiring stories from the front lines and beyond at LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG.