She used to have downtime during nursing shifts to chat with patients and their family members. She used to not feel so much anxiety at work, or at home. She used to not have to worry about her profession putting her family at risk.
A year into working in a COVID-19 unit at Abilene’s Hendrick Medical Center North, those comforts are gone. But Chelsea Van Meter, RN, CMSRN, is taking life one shift at a time.
“I’ve faced some of the greatest challenges of my career,” said Van Meter, who is in her second year as an instructor in ACU’s School of Nursing. “Nurses nationwide are battling burnout and fatigue. I am constantly reminding myself not to forget basic needs, and I’ve had to establish effective coping mechanisms and build and cultivate resilience.”
“COVID-19 is very unpredictable,” she continued. “For a long time, it was hit and miss. Everyone was constantly on edge, paying close attention to any subtle changes. The goal was and still is to try to implement early intervention to prevent or halt further patient decline. Some days are nerve-wracking. A drastic patient decline can occur in as little as an hour. It just happens so fast.”
Van Meter balances her courses and part-time nursing with being a wife and mother of two young children. She has worked at Hendrick since graduating from Hardin-Simmons University and the Patty Hanks School of Nursing in 2010.
When ACU’s campus was closed in Spring 2020 and classes were taught online, her children often made cameos during lessons. She can laugh about that now, but most of her experiences during the pandemic have been a struggle.
“The deaths have been hard,” Van Meter said. At one point, “they were back to back. Every shift you had, you lost a patient. That can be very detrimental to one’s mental health. They’re alone. For some of them, letting go or saying goodbye could have been an elective thing in which they were ready for that process to take place. And for some patients, it wasn’t their choice. Nursing is a caring profession, and it’s hard not to feel or get caught up with your emotions when these experiences have consumed your entire profession.
“People are really quick to spout off statistics [about the death rate],” she said, “but those numbers are still people. I have family members, peers and students who have all lost someone significant within the past year. It’s upsetting – mostly because these individuals most likely didn’t get the opportunity to say goodbye or have any closure.”
Her firsthand COVID-19 experiences have made their way into her lesson plans so that her students are prepared for what they will encounter in the field. Nursing is the most popular undergraduate major at ACU. Dr. Marcia Straughn, RN, CNE, dean of ACU’s School of Nursing, said a nurse like Van Meter has many experiences to share and can connect the material and concepts students are learning in classes, labs and clinical experiences.
“Chelsea is an amazing team member – a talented educator who cares deeply about students and both supports and challenges them to be successful,” Straughn said. “She demonstrates Christian love for her colleagues and her students in her excellent work for ACU, and through her work in her direct-care role during this pandemic.
“This is one of the things we strive to teach our students – that the professional nursing role provides a path for direct expression of Christian love through service to others in what may be their most vulnerable moments,” Straughn said.
Van Meter’s team at Hendrick has helped her through the worst of times, as have her ACU School of Nursing colleagues, whom she says pray for her and hospital staff daily. Straugh said nursing school faculty and staff make it a point to pray for their students and colleagues, especially those who are engaged in direct care. You may even see some of them prayer-walking around or through the Zona Luce Building that houses the school.
“Although the pandemic nursing experience is unlike anything most nurses have experienced in the past, all of us have worked exceptionally challenging days or weeks in the nursing role,” Straugn said. “To have that level of difficulty and uncertainty continue for months at a time – now for almost a year – is something that is on all of our minds and hearts, and is known to our God who understands our petitions before we can even put them into words.”
Van Meter said she is beginning to feel hopeful now that more people are receiving vaccines for COVID-19, although she doesn’t think life will return to anything like normal within the next year. For now, as always, her faith is what is keeping her going.
“This year has reminded me of the importance of my relationship with God,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have been able to cope. He’s brought me through some really dark and tough times, and I’m grateful.”