Southern Alumni nurses caring for COVID-19 patients at Waterbury Hospital

Sofia Rositani – Reporter  

From Southern to the emergency room of Waterbury Hospital, two nurses are working to care for COVID-19 patients while also taking care of themselves and their families.

Registered Nurse Brenda Lupo graduated from Southern with a bachelor’s degree in business and a concentration in marketing. Afterwards, she decided to go to Naugatuck Valley Community College to get her RN license. Lupo has been at Waterbury hospital for seven years now.

Lupo said the COVID-19 has personally brought her closer with her family.

“We are pretty much always together now and we get to do things that normally we never get to do like eating every single night at the dinner table,” Lupo said. “Life is at a slower pace now which I am grateful for.”

Even though she is grateful for these moments with her family, she still is considered an essential worker, so her work pulls her away from the quality time she has with them.

“That causes a lot of stress because you are always worrying at the back of your head ‘do I have it today? Do I have the virus? Is today the day I get it and give it to my family?’” Lupo said.

Before the pandemic the Waterbury ER used to be very busy and according to Lupo it is not as busy, but when a patient does come into the ER now, they are very sick.

Lupo said if there is not enough protective equipment in the future, she will become very worried about the situation with COVID-19 in terms of safety.  As of now, many nurses not only have had to buy their own protective gear, but also have had to reuse many of their masks and gowns.

“We have been relying on people donating, which is scary,” she said.

Lupo said she never expected something like this to happen while training to become a nurse, although she does feel she is trained well enough to work through this pandemic.

“You don’t think it’s a mass casualty. You think of something like a terrorist attack that’s the worst thing you think in your head, but nothing like this type of thing, like a pandemic,” Lupo said.

She also said people should continue social distancing.

“It has worked so far because we haven’t clogged the healthcare system with social distancing. We have slowed down the amount of people who have gotten sick all at once,” Lupo said.

BSN, RN and Manager of Clinical Operations  Emergency Services Debra Thompson, who graduated from Southern in 2000 and majored in Nursing said that she was part of a tight knit group of other student nurses who would get together and support each other.

“I think Southern did a great job of preparing me for my career,” Thompson said.

She said she did many different clinicals, attended various hospitals and centers and was taught in many different areas of nursing.  Thompson had worked on the orthopedic-neurosurgery floor and she is now working at Waterbury Hospital’s ER. She has been at Waterbury Hospital for 20 years; it was the first nursing job she worked at.

Thompson said it took some time before she really noticed the impact of COVID-19 on everyone. She paid attention to how everything was shutting down and then to how the volume of patients going into the ER changed.

Thompson also said her friends from Southern, just like they did in nursing school, have all stuck together through this pandemic and that bond they share was strengthened through the stress of being a nurse during this time.

“Our number of patients have definitely gone down. I think people have definitely listened. There is a large population that often seeks the emergency room as kind of an urgent care setting or a primary care doctor visit, and we have definitely seen a lot less of that during this COVID pandemic.” Thompson said, “but the patients who do come in are pretty sick, so it is definitely a different kind of time for us,”

Before the pandemic started, Thompson said she never felt anxious going to work but now she does have some anxiety going in.

“There has been a little extra anxiety going to work through all this and then I have a family that I come home to, so there is also that effect of wanting to make sure I protect myself the best I can at work so that I can also protect my family when I am home,” Thompson said.

Both Thomspon and Lupo have been swabbing people for the virus during the pandemic. Waterbury Hospital has the testing set at specific times during the week so it would not run out of materials.

Now due to limited resources, Waterbury Hospital is only swabbing those who are being admitted into the hospital. They both have said they felt comfortable administering the test due to how similar it is to the flu test, but there was always a hint of anxiety because they have heard how contagious the virus is.

While going into nursing, Thompson said they were constantly trained for how to respond if a virus like this ever happened, and even though they are prepared for it, this is causing anxiety in nurses around the world.

“You always knew that it was a possibility,” she said, “but I never imagined, or could have imagined a time where this would be our normal for a bit.”

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