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IOWA Magazine | 03-16-2021

Inside Iowa's COVID Unit

Fear turns to courage for University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Nurses at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics discuss what it was like caring for COVID-19 patients in the early days of the pandemic.

It was the lowest point of the COVID-19 pandemic for University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics nurse Seth Jackson.

Jackson (09BA) was hopeful for a sick patient in the Medical Intensive Care Unit making slow but steady progress. But the patient, who was still on a ventilator and continuous dialysis, suddenly went into a life-threatening cardiac rhythm.

Although Jackson and his team scrambled to save the patient and help the family connect over Zoom, the patient died. "Hearing [the family's] screams was pretty tough," he says.

Jackson and three other UI Hospitals & Clinics nurses shared emotional stories from the pandemic during a recent Chat from the Old Cap online event for Iowa alumni and friends. Debbie Herold (09MSN), associate director of nursing services, also discussed the early preparations UI Hospitals & Clinics made to set up telemedicine, COVID-19 clinics, drive-thru testing, and home treatment teams that kept patients from needing to receive care at the hospital. "I think we were on the frontlines of innovation when it came to that," says Herold about the home treatment teams, which she believes prevented surges at the hospital in spring 2020.

Caring for some of the sickest patients they'd seen in their careers, the nurses said they found encouragement in the community's outpouring of support. For Medical Intensive Care Unit nurse Nick Klein (12BS), the first glimmers of hope came in mid-December when he received his vaccine and in February when he was able to see his fully vaccinated mother for the first time in months.

"All of us are seasoned ICU nurses and know what it's like to be with a dying patient, but these are unprecedented times," Emily K. Ward (14MBA), associate chief nurse executive, said at the conclusion of the program. "Not everyone can do [what these nurses have done]."

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