Young ICU nurse looks back on the early days of the pandemic

In late February of 2020, Ashlynn Peters was fresh out of nursing school.

At 23, she had her dream job, working as a nurse in cardiac ICU of an Atlanta hospital.

She had been on the job just 9 months, when everything changed.

 "I've known I wanted to be a nurse forever," Peters says.  "After my first year of nursing, I was in love with critical care, I was in love with patient care."

She had been on the job just 9 months, when everything changed.

"Flying by the seat of my pants is a good term to use, as a new grad, especially in the ICU," Peters says.  "And, when the pandemic hit, and everyone was in that boat, no matter if you had been a nurse for a year, like me, or you'd been a nurse for 30 years, like some of my coworkers.  We all were kind of winging it, day by day, hour by hour."

As this new virus spread, Peters' job intensified.

"I got to work one night at 7, and they told us we were no longer cardiac critical care nurses, we were COVID critical care nurses," she remembers.

At the time, no one knew much about the virus.

"In the beginning it was, it was pretty terrifying for a while," Peters says.  "And, we'd never seen patients that sick, ever.  Everyone died those first couple of weeks.  No one survived.  I can recall one patient that I remember that left.  That was it."

Protective equipment became a must, but the guidelines, she says, seemed to be constantly changing.

"So, one hour we'd be wearing these gowns, and then the next they would say, "Those aren't protecting you; we're going to give you these," Peters says.  " Then, the next day, we would have different gowns."

She says they were given one N95 respirator, which needed to last them a month.

"That was like our lifeline, in a brown paper bag," she says.

Before the pandemic, she'd been hands-on with her patients, shaving their beards, brushing their hair, sitting and talking with them.

Now, she says, you touched patients through protective gloves, when you touched them at all.

 "We were told to get dressed go in the room, do what we had to do and get out," she remembers.

It was a difficult adjustment.

"I think the hardest part for me was feeling like I wasn't adequate enough, like I wasn't being a good enough nurse," Peters says.  "Just, because, looking back now, I know I couldn't control it, but these people were so sick, and we also were facing this deadly disease."

The hardest part, she says, were the goodbyes that patients and their families said over cellphones and iPads.

"Especially since I had to do the same with my grandmother," she says.  "I grieve those deaths every single time with those families, because I know what it feels like."

But even with everything over the last year, Ashlynn Peters says she is still passionate about nursing.

She says her experience made her a better advocate for her patients.

"It kind of teaches you a new way to be compassionated, and a way to care, at a whole other level," Peters says.

In December, Ashlynn Peters transitioned to travel nursing. 

She is now living in Boston and working the surgical ICU at a trauma center. 

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