Here Comes the Sun

Photos by Marc Lebryk

Hannah (Hughes) Blakley, BSN’17, is a nurse at IU Health West in Avon, Ind. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Blakley, who normally cares for those undergoing surgery, was tasked with attending to critical COVID-19 patients.

Below you’ll find our conversation with Blakley, as well as a video diary she kept over the course of a week at work in April.

What does your work schedule look like? How have your day-to-day duties changed?
Hannah Blakley: I’ve been picking up extra days since the surge of patients began. I usually work four 12-hour shifts a week. My day-to-day work has shifted a bit because we are limiting [our] time in [patient] rooms. We added cameras and are utilizing our call-light system as a way to communicate. It feels very strange.

Are you sleeping at home or elsewhere during this time?
HB: When this began, I asked my husband to go live with his parents so that there wouldn’t be any risk of me bringing [COVID-19] home to him. He responded by saying that he didn’t want me coming home to an empty house after having a hard, emotional day.

With that being said, I am taking a lot of precautions when I get home. I wear my own scrubs to work, change into new ones when I get [to the hospital], and then I come home in the scrubs I wore to work. I immediately throw everything into the wash and then shower before touching my husband or my dogs. Additionally, we try not to use my car for errands and my shoes stay in our laundry room. It’s draining to have worked a stressful 12-hour day and then have to come home and sanitize everything you’ve touched.

Hannah Blakley has been a nurse at IU Health West for more than three years.

How are you coping with the stress of each shift?
HB: My mother calls me after every shift and I tell her about the day I had, whether it involved holding my patient’s hand who is on hospice due to COVID-19, dancing to “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles while my patient is being discharged, or staying in a room too long to be there for my patient who is lonely and missing their family. It has been emotionally draining to work through this crisis, but it has been an honor to be my patients’ family while they’re fighting this alone.

What has been one of the hardest things about this pandemic?
HB: I’m an aunt. My niece is my world and not seeing her every week, watching her learn new words and activities has been hard. I can’t imagine being a mother right now in this crisis, because the anxiety I have trying to not expose my husband would be amplified if I had children in my home. I pray every day for the parents that have sent their children to stay with family or have been staying in a hotel to keep their kids from getting sick.

Description of the video:

[Hannah Blakley sitting in her car at night]

[Onscreen text reads: Hannah Blakley; video #1; April 15, 2020; Before shift]

[Hannah Blakey speaks] Hi, my name is Hannah Blakley and I’m a nurse at IU Health West Hospital. in Avon. I work on a med-surg floor that is currently all COVID. And I report to you from my car this morning. I think one of the biggest things for me in the mornings is the car ride over to the hospital. Every inch I get closer, the anxiety has gotten bigger. And the anxiety is mostly just from is this the day that I bring COVID home to my husband? Is this the day that I walk in and my patient is on hospice and their family won’t be there with them during their transition? Is this the day that is the end of my, my stick? You know, am I going to lose it? Is my coworker gonna lose it? I have co-workers that haven’t seen their kids months because of this, because they don’t want them to get it or for them to pass it on to their families because they’re the ones taking care of their children right now. That is just, I don’t know, it’s so hard for me to know that there are people here that can’t see their families. And I have seen mine for a long time either. And I’m missing out on seeing my niece grow up. I know it’s only two months, but there’s a lot of things that change in two months. And my biggest thing is just to remember to stay home. We are fighting for you on the frontlines. And the biggest thing you can do is stay home, wash your hands, make sure that you don’t end up in my hospital. That’s my biggest thing I want to tell the public. Our community has been amazing to us, they’ve been delivering us food. And I just want to thank you for everybody who’s donated or will donate. You guys are amazing and just keep it up. Thank you guys.

[Hannah Blakley sitting in a chair wearing a mask]

[Onscreen text reads: Hannah Blakley; video #2; April 15, 2020; During shift]

[Hannah Blakey speaks] Hi, my name Hannah Blakey. I’m a nurse at IU Health West in Avon. And it is April 15th, 2020 during the COVID pandemic. I’m currently on my lunch break taking, a well-deserved break in our reprieve lounge, which has actually created before the COVID crisis by our healthy work environment. It’s been a great place for me to go just to get off the unit, take a breather. I’m very thankful for this room and I think it’s really important that we as nurses, and anybody in healthcare right now is taking the time to take care of ourselves, especially with, you know, the amount of stress we’re going through right now. Today, I was just thinking about all the positive things that have actually come out of this. You know, there are lot of things that we can be thankful for in a time like this. And one of those is that we’ve had to relocate a lot of staff. And so I work on a med-surg floor and I’ve got to meet OR nurses, and techs and cath-lab nurses. It’s just been amazing to work with all of them and they’ve been extremely helpful. We’re still in need of a lot of help on night shift and on the weekends. But all the help that we can get has been amazing. Another thing that I am so thankful for this week is our hospital has given us scrubs that we can wear so that we don’t have to take home any dirty clothes, which is a huge blessing. And I’m so thankful for IU Health West for doing that for us. It’s something that has been a stressor on me—remembering to go home and, you know, un-scrub in my garage. So, I’m just thankful for that as well. And the last thing I’ve really enjoyed, it’s so hard to say that, the little things, you know, we have to keep enjoying things. The biggest thing I’ve enjoyed is when we’ve discharged patients. So when our COVID patients are leaving the floor, We get everybody on the unit ready and at the front door. And we wheel them through our unit while playing “Here Comes the Sun,” by the Beatles. And we all line up, and we cheer and wave them on. And you can just tell that the patients love it and they are so thankful that they’ve been taken care and that they’re going home finally. These patients have been staying for weeks. And so these are the things that I thought of and that I thought we needed to remember all the positive things that are still happening on within our unit, and within our hospital. So thank you.

[Hannah Blakley sitting in her car in the daylight]

[Onscreen text reads: Hannah Blakley; video #3; April 15, 2020; After shift]

[Hannah Blakey speaks] Hi. My name is Hannah Blakley. I’m a nurse at IU Health West in Avon. It is April 15th, 2020. It is currently 7:50, my shift ended at 7:30. So it took me 20 minutes to undress, get dressed because I don’t want anything dirty coming home to my house. And when I get home, I will also be changing and putting everything that I have in the laundry. Today was actually a really good day. I had two patients be discharged— that one ended up not being positive, which is great. The other one was and then ended up being negative after two weeks with us. So it was amazing to see her progression and how she got better and now she’s back home doing good. But I can say that my experience is not the experience that everybody is having or had today. We have patients that were put on hospice today. Patients that had to be intubated or were extubated. Just a lot going on. And not every day is this good. I’ve come home crying to my husband, telling him that there was nothing he could do, that he just needed to let me sit there and kind of feel what I’m feeling. You just have to remember that there was a time when this wasn’t what our normal was and that there will be another day where it will be something we just think about, not something that we are stressing about in the current moment. And that’s the thing that keeps me going is knowing that, you know, we will fight this and there will be the end and we’re going to do it together. And that’s what I love about IU Health West. Is that we are a team and we are going to get through it together. We’re going to fight this battle and yeah, there will be an end. So, thank you for listening.

[Hannah Blakley sitting in her car at night]

[Onscreen text reads: Hannah Blakley; video #4; April 18, 2020; After shift]

[Hannah Blakey speaks] Hey everyone. My name is Hannah Blakley. I’m a nurse at IU Health West in Avon. I work on an all COVID floor currently. And today was an okay day. Had a lot of discharges still, which is great. We’re still looking forward to having more discharges in the future. We all are kind of talking today how we feel as if the, the pattern of what COVID has been for us on my floor is starting to kinda dwindled down. We had a lot of critical care patients in the beginning, who were all intubated and moving up to ICU pretty quickly. That has kind of ceased for now, and it’s all turn into med-surg patients, which is good. But we also feel like there might be another wave coming. And we’re definitely afraid that with things opening back up, that will be when that wave comes. So, just again, make sure you’re washing your hands, you’re wearing masks when you go to the store, keeping six feet apart, you know, trying to limit exposure as much as you can still, even if you have to be going back to work and things like that. I did have a chance today to walk up to ICU and see one of my nurse friends there who came back from teaching. She has not been on the floor for a couple months now and she came back to help out, which is amazing. And I love hearing like the nurses that have been coming back and helping out. And it’s been so amazing to see that they’re doing whatever they can to help. She’s one of those. And while I was up there, we still have a lot of vented patients. And you know, it, when you look in, the first thought is like you feel bad for them. They’re alone. They don’t have their family sitting by their side through a really, really scary time for them. But after talking to my friend, like, you know, there are people that are getting really better and that’s awesome. And I think that this is coming to an end. But like I said, I’m still afraid of that wave that could come. So make sure you wash your hands, make sure you stay six feet apart, and wear your masks people.  We want you guys to all be safe and not end up on my floor. So we want to see your surgery patients again soon, so let’s get it there. Thank you.

[Hannah Blakley walking down a hallway wearing a mask ]

[Onscreen text reads: Hannah Blakley; video #5; April 19, 2020; During shift]

[Hannah Blakey speaks] Hi, my name is Hannah Blakley. I’m a nurse at IU Health West in Avon. Today has been kind of hard. I have a patient whose family member had to be intubated today and just the anxiety, and the stress that it’s caused him is just heartbreaking for me. Just watching him have to stay in his room. He can’t go up and see her at this point. So you know, it’s just hard to be there for them. But we also got to discharge somebody And they were so grateful they were crying the whole time. It’s just so, you know, it’s nice to see those moments. They’re so grateful, they’re have been isolated for weeks. It’s just good to see those kind of things happening here too. But, you know, there’s good and bad days and we’re all here together. We are all there for each other, and that’s just how we’re going to do this. So thanks for listening.

What is the atmosphere at the hospital like? How is everyone feeling about the crisis right now?
HB: When this all began, my team was scared and anxious about how COVID-19 would affect our hospital. Since then, we’ve grown together and learned to lean on one another. We are still fearful of a second wave, but I think we’ll be ready to fight it head-on.

Has there been a shortage of staff or personal protective equipment (PPE) at IU Health West?
HB: We haven’t felt a huge shortage on my team, but we are reusing masks more than we normally do. Our N95 masks are being cleaned and given back to us and our surgical masks can be cleaned if we don’t go into rooms with them. We have had a few coworkers call in with symptoms but only a couple. We have worked really hard to use proper donning and doffing methods to prevent us from being exposed.

Did any part of your education or time at IU prepare you for this?
HB: One thing I learned through my IU education was that nurses are resilient. So many patients have passed without family members by their side during [the coronavirus pandemic], but my team has stepped in and held their hands. We’ve cried because our patients are lonely. We’ve been on the phone with family explaining what intubation means for their loved one and heard their cries on the other line. My IU experience taught me that every nurse has a purpose, and our purpose now is to fight this to the very end.  

What do you love most about being a nurse?
HB: I love seeing my patients get better. When a COVID-19 patient gets discharged, we line the halls and clap as they leave our unit. I love knowing that what my team and I do makes a difference in the lives of others. Not every day is easy, but every day is worth it.

Hannah Blakley is just one of many IU alumni who have joined in the fight against COVID-19. This story series is our way of recognizing those who are going above and beyond during this health crisis. To us, they are nothing short of heroes.

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Written By
Samantha Stutsman
Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.