NYC Nurse Kevin Heidel ’83 on Patient Care in a Crisis

Kevin Heidel ’83, son of former Punahou Chaplain John Heidel, at work as a nurse during COVID-19.

What made you decide to return to nursing after being away for 2 1/2 years? 
I initially stopped working because I had to tend to a family crisis. Unfortunately, when I initially decided to reenter the workforce, the industry in general was in a hiring slump. Then, as time wore on, it became increasingly difficult to enter the workforce, regardless of the fact that I had 10 years ER and 1.5 years ICU experience. In January of 2020, I  began in earnest to look for any nursing job, especially out of the hospital setting. I had a few job offers, but nothing I was willing to commit to; the fit just didn’t feel right. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York. I watched the news headlines, dreading the spread across the other continents, wondering as we all did if it would be as bad here in the U.S. Sure enough, the virus entered NYC, and then in an area close to where I’m currently living – an hour north of NYC.

As the situation in NYC got more dire, I hesitated to make the move down to NYC to help out, knowing the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) shortage situation was critical. I was not going near a hospital unless that got straightened out. Then on March 20, I got a call from my agency that I was needed at the COVID drive-through testing facility 20 mins away from my home. It was a huge set up – 11 tents with 22 lanes, each to be staffed with three nurses. They had tents for every purpose, supplies, resting areas for the staff, a large tent with catered meals and enough seating to accommodate the rotating shifts of workers and one specially for decontamination and de-gowning. I did that for five days, 12 hours each. Then, as the testing supplies began to run out, they scaled it back so that just the original core staffing levels was all that were needed. One week later, I received a call about going to a City Hospital in the north Bronx, to work on the Medical Surgical floor. I was extremely hesitant to work in a hospital setting, knowing that the PPE situation has not likely improved. Yet after weeks of watching the pandemic unfold, and wanting to do more than I was doing, I told myself that if, during the orientation, I felt that I wouldn’t be properly protected, that I would simply turn down the offer to work there. Long story short, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the friendliness, the support and gratitude of the nurses and hospital staff. And yes, they provided the proper protection as well. 
So far, I’ve been working in two different Medical Surgical units. One was originally a dermatology outpatient clinic that was re-purposed into a COVID unit. Gratefully, we don’t have patients that require ventilators (that would make them ICU patients), but they are very sick and have multiple pre-existing conditions, but are for the most part stable. The sickest of the patients are the ones that come directly from the ER and have signed DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate) orders. Essentially, they come up to us to make room in the ER, and then to die. Our only treatment for them is comfort care, which means no oxygen support, no medications except for a morphine/Dilaudid IV infusion to keep them comfortable until they pass, alone. It’s tragic and sad. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that and have been speaking to the physicians as often as I can to understand the treatments, their rationale, and the timetable for treatments. Meanwhile, I’ve had to get up to speed on the computerized documentation (not too bad, as I used this system before), the layout of the unit, the lack of supplies (it’s a re-purposed unit, so there is no organized set-up), and refresh my IV insertion skills (no problem there, I still got it!). The anxiety I felt about working in a chaotic and unsafe environment gave way to a feeling of being supported, appreciated and well cared for by the permanent staff. I feel very fortunate that this is the experience of my foray back into the hospital environment.

Is there something you have seen that has made you optimistic?
The most amazing thing I’ve witnessed is … the vast amount of kindness and compassion people are showing each other, to strangers, to healthcare workers and the essential service providers. Witnessing the creative and humane sharing of ideas to occupy the time while self-quarantining is heartwarming. Seeing firsthand the strength of character, compassion and courage it takes to be a health care provider in this pandemic is truly awe inspiring and a marvel to see. It has reminded me of the power we all have within us to be better people, with each other and with ourselves. It has reminded me that all humans have the capacity to reconnect with the goodness inside us all. It’s too bad that it has taken the drawn-out, isolating nature of a pandemic to bring us to this point of inner reflection, but perhaps humanity needed an extended departure from its distractions, its consumerism, to allow itself to remember and focus on what is really important – family, close friends and showing compassion towards other, ourselves and evolving into a better person and community.

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