Baylor nursing alumna on frontlines of COVID-19 pandemic

Lauren Gustafson, registered nurse at UT Southwestern in the Emergency Department and Baylor Nursing alumna, is on the frontlines of the pandemic and deals with treating patients suspected of having the virus everyday. Photo courtesy of Lauren Gustafson

By Phoebe Alwine | Reporter

Working as a Registered Nurse at UT Southwestern in the Emergency Department, Baylor Nursing alumni, Lauren Gustafson, is on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her job includes helping patients in critical conditions become stable, doing blood work and EKGs (electrocardiograms) and carrying out doctors’ orders in order to treat the patients properly. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Gustafson’s work has changed dramatically.

“Our regular ER flow has definitely changed due to this pandemic. We used to put people with fevers, cough, and runny noses into a fast-track area because it was most likely the flu and a quick discharge” Gustafson said. “However, to keep everyone safe and limit exposure we have to be on the safe side and essentially treat everyone with a cough, fever, or shortness of breath as if they have it until a negative test result comes back. This causes us to use many more resources for these patients presenting with mild symptoms than we would have before the coronavirus.”

Gustafson is one of the emergency nurses who has been trained specifically to help treat COVID-19 patients, meaning that she works with suspected cases everyday, seeing anywhere between 20 to 40 patients in a 24-hour period. She said when she goes to see a patient there is a large amount of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that must be worn.

“The proper PPE that we must wear when going into a suspected COVID-19 patient’s room includes: booties/shoe covers, gown, double gloves, N95 respirator mask, surgical mask on top in order to reuse the N95 masks, face shield, bouffant/hat,” Gustafson said.

As a wife and mom to a cat and a dog, Gustafson’s life has been greatly affected by being an essential worker. She said she’s fearful of bringing the virus home with her to her husband after a long day at work, and when out in public she worries about contracting the virus and bringing it to the hospital with her.

“I’ve been taking all the proper precautions,” Gustafson said. “Correct techniques at work to not expose myself, wearing the surgical scrubs and changing before leaving, showering as soon as I get home, keeping disinfectant wipes for in my car after shifts – but I know that if my loved ones got sick I would still feel guilty and blame myself for it.”

Gustafson said that treating patients has become personal after hearing that her friend’s father has contracted the virus.

“Before hearing about that, it was easy to take care of these patients and not have it feel too personal. But now I can relate to how scared the patients and their family members are feeling,” Gustafson said. “It makes me want to provide better care for my patients. I struggle with feeling helpless and can’t necessarily help my friend’s dad but I can surely help those hurting who are in front of me.”

Riley Mills, a registered nurse at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, said that this pandemic has opened her eyes to what it means to be a nurse.

“This pandemic has made me realize how tough and resilient nurses really are,” Mills said. “Although I knew this before, it has been amazing to see everyone come together as a team in the healthcare world and be in the same position and get through it together.”

Gustafson said that these weeks are nerve wracking due to the immense amount of new potential COVID-19 cases surging into hospitals.

“I am a little scared for what it’s going to look like when our hospital becomes full and we’re tight on PPE like some of the hospitals are experiencing in places like New York,” Gustafson said. “It’s humbling to see those nurses and medical professionals who are working so diligently in extreme conditions with limited protection. Their bravery and dedication motivate me to continue to help in the ways I’m able to for our family and friends affected in the Dallas area.”