The nurses rotated among the rooms of COVID-19 patients on Unit 75. These were patients who were sick with coronavirus infection, but they weren’t in critical condition, such as those patients in the intensive care unit who might be sedated and on ventilators.
At its most basic, the nurses’ job is the one that came most naturally. Talk to the patients. Hear their stories, if they could communicate. Provide the human touch that could keep these patients grounded and oriented. Keep them from becoming divorced from their environment.
“We would just sit down with the patients and talk to them, not about their illness, but everything about their life — whatever they wanted to talk about,” Maye said.
At first, this anti-delirium program focused exclusively on patients over 65. But Radhakrishnan’s team saw that delirium threatened younger COVID-19 patients as well, so champion services were expanded to include them, too.
To be sure, Maye and Melara both wore full protective equipment. Their masks and gowns and gloves were the same as other medical personnel. But the patients became familiar with them because the champions visited every day, sometimes staying in a room more than an hour.
Maye talked horses with one patient with dementia, even if the patient forgot everything that was said within 10 minutes. She could see how the patient became animated at the discussion.
Maye managed to get a patient chocolate after discovering from family that the person had a sweet tooth.
“At 8 a.m., they would start meeting the patients with introductions,” said Radhakrishnan. “The nurses want to get in the room, open the blinds, start the day off fresh. Wake up the patient. Apply a structure to the day.”
The nurses would try to keep patients mobile within the confines of the room because they couldn’t walk around the unit.
In pre-COVID-19 days, someone came to a patient’s room to take meal orders off a menu. Now, that was being done by phone, and many of these patients could not effectively communicate their choices.
“Some of them don’t know how to answer the phone,” Melara said.
Maye and Melara talked to patients to see what they’d like to eat, or find out from family if communication was difficult.
The nurses might bring patients puzzles or art materials to keep minds engaged.
“They were able to provide cognitive stimulation to try to keep them focused on something else to stave off confusion,” said Radhakrishnan.