Editor’s note: On March 26, it was two years since Frederick Health Hospital admitted its first coronavirus patient. As the country enters its third year to live with the pandemic, Frederick News-Post spoke with three health professionals about what they experienced over the past two years and how they continued.
Below, we share the story of Katina Parker, a respiratory therapist who had to find new ways to stay motivated while the pandemic dragged on. In Monday’s edition, we will share the story of Joy White, a head nurse on the medical surgical floor.
In the early months of the pandemic, a local Baltimore television station ran a segment that hailed breathing therapists as “unsung heroes” of the pandemic.
After it was sent, Katina Parker, a respiratory therapist at Frederick Health Hospital, pulled the video up on her phone and showed it to her daughter. She expected the baby’s face to lighten as she watched the clip. But it did not.
“I said, ‘Well, what’s wrong?'” Parker recalled one recent morning as he sat in the lobby of the local hospital. “She says, ‘Well, I like that you’re important at your job. But you put yourself in danger. ‘”
Parker took a break.
“My 9-year-old said that to me. ‘I do not like that you can get this COVID and something can happen to you,’ she said. ‘I did not expect that reaction at all.’
On March 26, it was two years since Frederick Health Hospital admitted its first coronavirus patient. Since then, the virus has gone from a terrifying unknown to a more familiar threat – one that has left healthcare professionals exhausted.
Frederick Health Chief Nursing Officer Diane McFarland recalls that she walked around during the recent hike when staff took care of a pandemic of nearly 120 people who tested positive for the virus.
“Nursing is truly an art,” McFarland said, getting emotional. “It simply came to our notice then. And it’s just awe-inspiring for me to see them come here every day and do what they want, what they love to do, and take care of the patients as if they were their family. ”
Since then, the local hospital has calmed down. As of Friday, it treated only eight people who were COVID-positive. Coronavirus positivity levels have dropped across the county and stood at 2.36 percent on Friday – dramatically lower than where they stood on January 7, when they peaked at 33.85. This number is calculated by dividing the total number of COVID-19 tests administered by those that returned positive.
But health professionals are still working through the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic and all those that came before it.
As the world enters its third year of living with coronavirus, Frederick News-Post spoke with three Frederick Health staffers about the past two years and how they got through them.
Today we share Parker’s story. In the coming days, we will share the stories of two more staff members: a on-call nurse on the medical surgical floor and a on-call nurse on the intensive care unit.
‘I had to find another reason’
Parker remembers the early days of the pandemic, when no one in the world knew what they were dealing with or what was to come.
At the time, she was still a respiratory therapist at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, where she worked for 16 years. The staff did everything they could to treat their coronavirus patients, but nothing worked. Despite their best efforts – and the efforts of the medical center’s specialist pulmonologist and intensive care unit intensifier – they lost many patients.
Before the pandemic, Parker was used to being able to help his patients. They entered the emergency room with shortness of breath and she gave them oxygen or a respiratory treatment or put them in a ventilator. It gave her “instant gratification” to see people start getting better almost immediately.
“With COVID, it was different,” she said. “You feel a little defeated because nothing you do helps.”
Some of her colleagues started saying they did not sign up for this, Parker recalled. But even though she was afraid of herself and her young daughter, she felt she had.
One day, she was sitting with a dying patient, holding an iPad in front of him so his family could say goodbye. That was when it hit her.
“That’s why I do this,” she remembers thinking. “Because I needed to be here. If I was not here and doing this for this patient, then who would be here for this patient?”
Parker was transferred to Frederick Health Hospital when the delta variant of coronavirus crashed into Maryland.
This time there was a vaccine to ward off the worst of the virus’ symptoms. But some of Parker’s patients – the same people she put her health and her child’s health at risk of taking care of – did not want to be vaccinated.
“I was just thinking, ‘Why? What’s the problem?'” She said. “I had to find another reason to be encouraged.”
Parker’s new ground appeared in pieces. One day a police officer pulled her while she was driving home from the hospital a little too fast. When he got to her window and saw her uniform, he asked where she worked. Then he asked what she was doing there. He laughed when she told him so.
“‘Madam, I want you out here right away,'” Parker remembers telling her. “‘And I just want to say to you, thank you for your service.”
A little later, she encountered some problems with her phone and called IT. After talking to the employee for nearly two hours, she told him she was a respiratory therapist before she left the line. The way he gasped, you would have thought she had just told him he was Diana Ross or Michael Jackson, she said, laughing.
These two meetings made Parker feel rejuvenated. They also helped her realize something about why she kept going to work every day.
“Guess what? I did not do it for those who did not get their vaccination. I did not do it for the immediate satisfaction that I get from seeing that I helped the patient to no longer be in respiratory distress,” she said. “It was the community. Now it’s the community.”
There is a hallway on the second floor of the hospital, lined with pictures and signs that children in the county have made for Frederick Health staff.
Parker walks past the artwork every time she starts a new shift. She can recite the message on one of the characters word for word. Surrounded by drawings and stickers with gingerbread men, Santa Claus and snowmen, it says, “You helped save our mother and she could come home for Christmas!”
Even though the posters have been up for several months now, Parker still reads them every time she walks down the hall.
“It’s pushing you through,” she said. “It really does.”