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Written by: Aaron Tomich, ColumbusCrewSC.com
Published: May 18, 2020
It was a personal thing to begin with: As a teenager, Carolyn Graf had cared for her mother, a cancer survivor. In many aspects, she took on a nurse’s duties each day, but without the degree and title.
“[During high school,] my mom had blood clot issues, so I would have to give her shots, and throughout her surgeries, I’d have to help her out because my sister would get all queasy,” Graf explained.
All of this being said, Graf never originally liked the idea of becoming a nurse, saying it was “too cliché as a girl to be a nurse,” but eventually discovered the many specialties of the practice. That discovery brought the Hudsonville, Mich., native to Ashland University, where family ties grounded her and her pursuit within nursing school.
After graduating in 2018, she took her nursing boards exam in Ohio and had a job lined up in Columbus with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center as a registered nurse.
Her focus: bedside nursing. Her placement: the medical-surgical and burn unit floors.
On a normal day, Graf will work a 12-hour shift, where she will typically attend three to five patients, giving them their medications, changing bed sheets, and simply conversing, human-to-human – the part of nursing she often looks forward to the most.
An Unpredictable Situation
Nothing in school could have prepared Graf for what came in March.
“I don’t think anyone coming out of school expects in their first couple of years that there’s going to be a worldwide pandemic,” she said.
The new reality in the medical world, especially hospital floors, is one that is scary for Graf and many other healthcare professionals. Although she is young and does not have children of her own, she feels deeply for her nursing colleagues in different situations.
“A lot of other nurses are afraid of accidentally infecting their family and their kids,” she said. “We hope that all of the protective things we are doing will be enough, but there are staff that have come back positive, even with them doing all of the precautions.”
Graf’s medical-surgical and burn unit floor do not specifically get COVID-19 positive patients, but will tend to them if there is overflow.
She will “float” to a different unit and floor – one that is COVID-19 patients only – about every other week to help with staffing rotation. The floor she usually gets floated to is one that cares primarily for state prison inmates who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Daily, Graf gets her temperature checked before entry into the hospital building. Immediately following, her mask is put on and worn for the entirety of her shift. Goggles, N-95 masks, a face shield, gown, and gloves are all required to be worn when caring for COVID-19 positive patients.
Graf recognized the new challenges her and her colleagues face when caring for these patients.
“Basically, every day I go into work, there are new policies, including those regarding no visitors,” she said. “We’ve been getting a lot of calls from families obviously wanting updates.”
But therein lies the opportunity for Graf to do what she loves to do the best, and that is connecting with others. She says that sometimes her patients just want someone to be with in their room to simply talk, filling the void when family and friends alike cannot be present.
“I like being able to be of help during this pandemic, and really be a part of it, knowing I’m helping as best as I can,” she said.
Gratitude All Around
Graf was adamant to mention that she was not the only one who deserves praise and recognition during these times. She pointed out the many other people “behind the curtains” that deserve to be known, such as patient care assistants, room and floor cleaning staff, surgery transport staff, and those that provide daily nutrition to each patient.
“All these different people help [nurses] do our jobs as best as we can, and not many people know about that,” she said.
Columbus Crew SC joined many others around the country and world to collectively show support and thanks to all nurses during Nurses Week in early May. Graf said that she certainly has felt all the love and support and is grateful.
“I appreciate [Crew SC] going out of your way to talk with frontline workers and heroes, including having the stadium lights on blue for police officers,” she said. “I really appreciate you guys for helping the community and standing with us.”