Masked and ready
Two young surgical nurses talk about life during COVID
Lynn Goosman and Haley Habermehl
Haley Habermehl, twenty-nine, is single, lives in downtown Buffalo, and works as a surgical nurse at Buffalo General Hospital hospital. Her friend, Lynn Goosman, twenty-eight, is also a registered nurse working in the operating room at Buff Gen. Goosman lives in the Elmwood Village. "Being a circulating nurse in the operating room has always been a dream of mine," Habermehl says, while Goosman “fell in love with the operating room while I was still in nursing school.” Goosman waged a personal battle with COVID in April.
What’s a typical day like?
Habermehl: Typically when I go into work I am given a room assignment and am in charge of preparing for and orchestrating the staff for whichever operations are on the schedule for that particular operating room for that given day. I assist in the intubation process and the administration of blood if need be. I gather specimens for our laboratories to assess and keep the family updated throughout the case. But my main job as a surgical nurse is to advocate for my patient. If I am able to educate them and their families, dissolving some of the fear they may have, then I have succeeded in the most important part of my job for that day.
Goosman: I only get a couple of minutes to speak with my patient before the operation begins. This is the most important part of the day to me—establishing a relationship of trust and solidarity with them. On one of the scariest days of their lives, I am there to hold their hands while they drift off to sleep—and there to greet them with a smile when they wake up.
Over the months of the pandemic, what has gotten better at your job?
Habermehl: The teamwork has gotten better. We have had no choice but to work efficiently together. Communication has increased and relationships have improved because of it.
Goosman: We are all becoming stronger nurses for the trials we are facing today. Even in the middle of a global pandemic I look forward to going in to work everyday and working through one emergency after another with my team by my side.
What has gotten worse?
Goosman: When COVID-19 became a concern nationwide in mid-March, everything changed. Eventually, elective surgeries were cancelled altogether, but this didn’t mean that all surgeries stopped. Many surgeries are necessary for the preservation of life. With people too nervous to seek medical attention when it was necessary, they now are being rushed into emergency surgeries to save their lives. In the preCOVID world we might have done a few emergent/urgent surgeries a week. Now, it seems, we do a couple of emergency surgeries a day.
Habermehl: The overall organization of how my department is run has been affected. With rules, regulations, and policies changing every day it is difficult to keep things moving forward accordingly. We may not know what we are walking into on a daily basis.
What gives you hope?
Habermehl: The disheartening reality of healthcare is something that we face daily, but do not run away from because it is our passion to care for others despite the prognosis. Like healthcare workers, the community has given without expecting anything in return. The thankfulness of the community is apparent when people all over Eestern New York take the time out of their day to try and keep us informed and say, “Thank you!” Many have expressed their gratitude through food, donations of masks, letters, posters, and numerous heartfelt gestures.
Goosman: The people I love give me hope. I have seen, firsthand, the good that this virus can bring out in people. When my COVID-19 test came back positive in early April, I was terrified. Would I be okay? Would I make other people sick? How would I pay my bills? The outpouring of love and support from my family, friends, and co-workers was overwhelming. Not a day went by without people checking in on me, people dropping off food and leaving baskets full of comfort on my doorstep.
How do you think WNY is coping with all this?
Habermehl: think WNY is coping with the pandemic in the best way we can. I think people are scared but that we are willing to fight this unexpected, unprecedented, and horribly tragic situation we are in. We will emerge more prepared and stronger from this calamity.
Goosman: Community-based organizations are working to help relieve hunger, provide mental health support, and boost morale. Western New Yorkers are resilient. Pizza and wings are available for curbside pickup, the sun is starting to shine, and as long as the Bills season does not get cancelled—we will survive.
Who do you admire, and why?
Habermehl: I admire my fellow nurses. We all go into this career with the hopes of helping others, but putting the safety of strangers before your own—honestly, most people wouldn’t do it. My coworkers in the operating room were ready and willing to help out in the hospital wherever they needed it. We wanted to be put to work in order to give some of our fellow nurses a well overdue respite, even if assignments may not have been a part of our specialized job description. It is a privilege to be a part of this profession.
Goosman: I admire all of my fellow healthcare workers, especially those working in nursing homes. Residents at these longterm care facilities are more vulnerable to the coronavirus; some of them are confused and they are all separated from loved ones. My mother is a dementia care nurse in one such facility. I know how much she cares for her patients. They become like family, and the possibility of so many people you care about and care for becoming ill is devastating.
How are you finding relaxation and respite?
Habermehl: Like many others, I am finding relaxation in being outside and taking long walks. And, I’ve taken up sewing!
Goosman: I am able to unwind by turning off the news, disconnecting from social media, and opening a good book. My quarantine to-read pile just seems to be growing . I also love to put on a good podcast and take my dog, Florence, for a walk. Wine also helps.
What's the main thing you want to do when this is all over?
Habermehl: The main thing I want to do when this is all over is sit down, discuss and make a plan of action with coworkers, union representatives, and management for the next time something like this may happen. Being prepared and having a plan of action will undoubtedly decrease stress, chaos, and the number of innocent victims within our community.
Goosman: I haven’t decided what I want to do first when the world begins again, but I know I want to go to bingo with my mom, grab coffee with my friends, and dance the night away at a concert. I want to hop on a plane to anywhere and everywhere. It doesn’t really matter what I do; what matters is that I appreciate the things I have taken for granted my whole life.