School nurse returns to ICU after closures

School nurse returns to ICU after closures

SCITUATE – When the doors at Blackstone Valley Prep closed in March, middle school nurse and Scituate native Colleen McCormick reached out to area health care providers offering her help.

McCormick, who worked in the intensive care unit after college at Massachusetts General Hospital and Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, said coronavirus patients are similar to those she cared for in the past.

While she continues to work remotely for Blackstone Valley Prep, McCormick said she felt compelled to put her nursing skills to use during the pandemic.

She said she knew her experience using ventilators and caring for patients with respiratory illness was needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. When previously treating patients for flu, McCormick said she became familiar with intubating patients.

“That type of patient is what I’ve always taken care of. That’s why I raised my hand. It’s what I’ve always done,” she said.

For the next two months, beginning April 20, McCormick is going back to the ICU to treat COVID-19 patients.

“I felt bad just sitting in my apartment with a little bit of experience under my belt,” she said.

The 28-year-old said while nursing and working with youth is where her heart is, her experience made her invaluable. She reached out to area hospitals to offer her services.

She landed a night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence. Like other hospitals in Rhode Island, Fatima Hospital’s ICU is caring for coronavirus patients.

“I think they’re just thankful to have any help. Right now, they are at a higher capacity than normal,” McCormick said.

After her first full week back in the ICU, she said her co-workers are “amazing” and help create a support group that keeps everyone going. Through stressful shifts and long nights, she said teamwork keeps everyone going. Nurses and doctors are versed in supporting one another, she said, and co-workers become like family.

“You have to stay positive for yourself and your patients,” she said.

Her assignment at Fatima will last up to 10 weeks, ending in July. That light at the end of the tunnel drives her to go above and beyond and state positive for those who will continue to work during the pandemic.

“I really feel for the nurses who are just in it full-time. They don’t really have an end in sight,” she said.

Positivity and support from the community is keeping her and other nurses going, she said. When hospital workers feel drained, she said seeing the outpouring of support is fantastic.

“They fill your bucket with positivity. The community is refilling that bucket for the staff,” she said.

McCormick said staff is low on personal protective equipment and is reusing masks and other gear. She said she knew what she was walking into, and said she feels safe.

Her advice is to stay inside, wash your hands often, and practice social distancing.

“I know it really stinks to have to stay home and not socialize. There’s only so much room in the hospital,” she said, adding to have patience and not be a patient.

McCormick said while she hopes to return to school in the fall, she will enlist for another hospital assignment if it remains closed.

McCormick is the daughter of Scituate Town Councilor Tim McCormick and School Committee Chairwoman Erika McCormick. She says she is not “a huge political person.”