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CNA’s Covid-19 unexpected encounter

Exposure inspires focus on Trauma & ICU

By Debby Wadsworth, Freelance Writer

Destinie Woodard, CNA

When Destinie Woodard was driving to her shift one Thursday evening in April, she didn’t anticipate anything unusual or life-changing. She worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at a Banner Medical Center. While no shift was ever the same, she could expect a mix of new and established patients, all in stable condition, with each having their own unique needs. “I like that my shifts are never boring!” Woodard said. She loves being a CNA in the hospital, taking care of patients, watching them improve, and making a difference.

Before she left for work, Woodard called the hospital to see if there were any assignment changes. Covid-19 was all over the news, and they already had pandemic patients. Woodard ‘s concern was put to rest when she was told her assignment would be the usual – Outpatient Observation. Besides, pandemic patients were in the Covid-19 Progressive Care Unit (PCU) unit, which is a critical care unit, and one step lower than an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). CNAs were not expected to take care of critical care patients. In fact, “CNAs were not allowed on the Covid-19 unit.” Woodard said. The chance of her having to provide care for pandemic patients was zero.

Welcome to the Covid-19 PCU

Upon arriving at the hospital, Woodard was unexpectedly given a life-changing assignment. Woodard was told she had been assigned to the Covid-19 PCU. “They did not tell me until I got there,” Woodard said. “I was shocked.” Until now, CNAs had never been expected to take care of Covid-19 patients.” We had no training in critical care,” Woodard said. Yet she was supposed to do it without hesitation.

Woodard, shaken, listened to the justification. “The nurse said they were short nurses, and needed the CNAs to help with taking vitals, and things like bringing patients’ water,” Woodard said. With no time to sink in, she was taken to the Covid-19 Progressive Care Unit (PCU). “On the way to the unit, they stopped me and asked if I had an N95,” Woodard said. “Then they made me sign my life away.”

The nurse gave “A five-minute rundown on the types of Covid-19 patients, how to put on your mask, and how to take vitals,” Woodard said. Followed by a strict instruction, “Do not go into a room unless you have to.” Woodard felt up to the challenge, but at the same time a bit nervous. “I was not scared, but I was never trained at being on a higher-level unit,” Woodard said.

Whew, none were on ventilators

Initially, over ten patients were assigned to Woodard and her fellow CNA, who had 15 years of experience. They were a combination of Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients. “The patients I had ranged from COVID precaution patients to positive. None of them that I had, were on ventilators,” Woodard said. She saw symptoms related to breathing and temperature. “I saw shortness of breath mostly and fever spikes,” according to Woodard. “The patient’s overall were calm and scared at the same time. You can tell they were trying to be calm, but you could see there was obvious discomfort and I saw scared body language.”

Woodard and her coworker were concerned about spreading Covid-19 between patients. Together they approached a nurse about their concerns only to find her upset and crying. The nurse was crying because they were short nurses; she had to take care of two critical care patients at the same time. One had Covid-19 and the other a lung condition. “She (nurse) was scared of giving Covid-19 to the lung patient,” Woodard said.

Woodard calmed her down, they worked out that Woodard would take care of all the Covid-19 patients, and her fellow CNA would provide care for the rest. “I started with five Covid-19 patients, and then more came from the ER,” Woodard said. She turned to her faith in God for strength, bowed her head, and prayed each time she had to enter a patient’s room. “I did not want to bring it home, Woodard explained. “I live in a family of seven.”

Remembering a crisis from days past

The situation brought to her mind an event that had happened in nursing school. It is something she has never forgotten, and described it as follows: “My preceptor (fellow CNA & trainer) was not with me at the time when I went to go say goodbye to my last patient. I was talking to them, and all of a sudden, they stopped responding. I turned my head, and they were having a stroke right there in front of me. It was the first time I have ever witnessed anything like that. I am naturally calm in those situations, and I knew exactly what to do because I was taught well by my preceptor. That experience sticks with me to this day just because it was the first one I ever saw.”

Woodard finished her shift, went home, and thanked God she had survived. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Woodard said. The event gave her new inspiration for her nursing specialty at Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Arizona State University (ASU). She is a nursing student there earning a Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN). “After seeing everything I have seen, I switched from wanting to pursue oncology in the future to now wanting to be a trauma and ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurse,” Woodard said. “That is so needed right now. I have the courage and passion to put myself in that position.” Woodard said.

It took a few tries. “I aced it!”

Overcoming challenges is not new to Woodard. Over the last few years, she encountered a career-stopping education challenge on her way to applying for nursing school. The problem stemmed from not having passed the required prerequisite classes. “I have been to hell and back, with my education,” Woodard said. “I failed my anatomy and physiology twice, and an advisor told me not to be a nurse. I ended up taking the class a third time at another community college and aced it.”

Woodard’s victory over the pandemic came from her faith and inner strength. She also persevered because of the support, inspiration, and encouragement bestowed upon her. “My mom always said you are going to get in (nursing school),” Woodard said. “They (her mother and father) always told me you can be a nurse, even when I failed the class.” Her godsister, Diamond Zamora, an RN, has also been a source of strength. Zamora’s stories about going to Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and working as an RN in Cardiac ICU greatly influenced Woodard’s decision to try health care and become a CNA. Plus, she mentioned one incredibly special professor.

The professor’s name is Deborah Hill, and she was Woodard’s instructor at East Valley Institute of Technology for the CNA program. “She cared about every student and made learning enjoyable,” Woodard said. “The professor (Hill) was the best I ever had.” Things she learned from Hill helped during that one frightful night in April.

Woodard does not regret it happened. For it became an unreplaceable teaching experience. She can draw from it both today as a CNA and in the future as an RN. “I honestly just love being in the hospital,” Woodard said. “I feel in my heart that I belong there, and it just feels right”. Woodard looks forward to becoming an RN, and moving to what she calls, “A higher scope of practice,” She said. “I will be able to do more!”

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