Round Bay resident Carol Stob, RN, thought she’d seen just about everything in her 45-year nursing career. For the last 30 years, Stob has been a nurse at the Edwards Pavilion, an outpatient surgical center of Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC). With surgical procedures reduced or canceled, Stob was redeployed to the COVID-19-dedicated intensive care unit of AAMC.
“At first I was very anxious, intimidated even, at the thought of working in the COVID unit,” said Stob, who vividly remembers being a younger nurse at George Washington University Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., working with dying people in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. As the U.S. COVID-19 death toll is now more than 100,000, Stob wholeheartedly considers her role in caring for ICU patients “an absolute privilege.”
“The people I work with have taken the team concept to an Olympic level,” said Stob. “Nurses, doctors, housekeeping, respiratory therapists, technicians, everyone is on this team. Egos have been checked at the door and we are one team. We are here to care for patients and we care for each other. Never in my long career have I seen a more supportive and pulled together team.”
Stob has held the hands of people near and through death, ensuring that they did not die alone. She has comforted family members and co-workers, noting that the entire ICU staff celebrates a recovery or mourns a death. In the midst of long shifts, the support of the community has become a highlight of her team’s day.
“There isn’t a day when a meal - breakfast, lunch and dinner - has not been provided for us. Food just shows up!” said Stob. “The community support is unbelievable and awesome. For us, sitting down together for a meal, to finally relax, is the only normal thing about our shift. It has become the highlight of our day. The camaraderie is very uplifting.”
Severna Park native Ellie Milleker, RN, BSN, was working at Mercy Medical Center and a nursing home when the pandemic response was taking shape. With just three years of nursing experience, the 25-year-old jumped at the chance to apply for a position in the Baltimore Convention Center-based COVID-19 response center for critically ill patients.
“I was really intrigued by the disaster response aspect,” said Milleker, who has disaster response training. “I wanted to dive right in, to make a difference during this pandemic and be able to say, ‘I helped.’”
The Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital (BCCFH) opened April 27 as a state-licensed, 250-bed hospital operated jointly by the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Hospital. Milleker said that staff members inside the facility have really become a family, a true team all working with a common goal - to save lives.
“People here are scared. They are sick. And, they are alone,” said Milleker. Fully decked out in PPE (personal protective equipment), which include gowns, masks, shields and gloves, Milleker said it is difficult for patients and caregivers to read people’s facial expressions, so it’s important to break down barriers and to form relationships.
“We’ve brought in books, TVs, games, even put decorations like pictures on the walls to make the environment less stressful,” she said, noting that patients typically spend seven to 10 days inside the field hospital before going home or to another facility to continue to self-isolate. “We are here for them one-on-one for days at a time, and we form bonds with the patients.”
At the field hospital, the staff comes from different places, most not knowing each other prior to coming to BCCFH.
“Even though the patients here are very ill, the environment is a very positive one,” said Milleker. “Everyone comes from very different backgrounds and there is thick diversity. It’s been really very rewarding to be part of this blended team.”
Like thousands of Maryland residents and businesses owners, Round Bay residents Carrie Gruver and Margaret Podlich, and Julie Banks Antinucci, who lives near Glen Oban, wanted to do everything within their powers to support health care professionals, some of whom happen to be neighbors. “Sew,” they got busy making hundreds of fabric masks.
“I started making masks because I knew that it would help protect people and if I can do that with my sewing skills, I’m more than happy to do that,” said Antinucci. “I also enjoyed working with my daughter Molly to make the masks and knowing my three other kids were learning about being generous during a time when so many people are in need.”
Her family alone has made more than 250 masks; Antinucci said she continues to make 20 to 40 masks each week. As the co-president of the Annapolis Quilt Guild, Antinucci said members have collectively made more than 10,000 masks for various organizations, including Anne Arundel Medical Center, pediatrician offices, active and retired police officers, nurses, retirees, nursing homes, etc.
Also supportive, added Stob, are her neighbors. “I’d like to thank my Round Bay neighbors, like the Round Bay book club, who send flowers and expressions of encouragement and gratitude.”
Milleker is appreciative of her fellow Marylanders and Severna Park neighbors for all they have done to support nurses and other health care professionals during this time. She said she’s seen the rainbow-colored signs of support along roads and in windows, but there is something else she sees that is far less attractive - people not adhering to federal, state and local government guidelines to lessen the likelihood of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
“I feel sad about the disregard of protective guidelines and the real ignorance of some people about the severity of this virus,” she added. “With restrictions starting to loosen and more businesses and activities starting to open up, we fully expect to see a surge in cases over the next several weeks.”
If that should happen, Milleker, Stob and thousands of others like them will be ready, should they be needed.