Sanford nurse: 'I still love what I do' despite COVID-19's toll
Taylor Schettler became a registered nurse eight months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The virus has caused much strain on the healthcare industry and especially those who care for patients.
WORTHINGTON — When Taylor Schettler chose a career in nursing, she was not only following in the footsteps of two sisters and several aunts who are nurses, she was going into a career she has a passion for — taking care of people.
In July 2019, Schettler joined the staff of Sanford Worthington Medical Center as a registered nurse. By mid-March 2020, she became a critical frontline worker in a global pandemic that still has no end in sight.
And she still loves the career she chose.
“I love caring for other people and helping others,” Schettler said earlier this month. “COVID has not affected my want to be a nurse at all. I still love what I do. Even in these trying times of caring for COVID patients, you get encouraged when patients and family members show their appreciation, and the little things like seeing a patient improve.”
There for each other
Schettler, who grew up in Wilmont and graduated from Fulda High School, doesn’t yet have a family of her own. Therefore, she doesn’t have some of the stressors endured by colleagues balancing both work and family during the pandemic.
Caring for COVID patients day after day, however, can — and does — take its toll on everyone.
“A lot of days are stressful,” Schettler said. “I work with a great team of nurses and we all work together to help each other get through.
“We’re willing to help each other,” she added. “We’re a team”
With staffing shortages in healthcare — and seemingly everywhere else, these days — Schettler and her fellow nurses consistently have opportunities to work extra hours and, since October, she has picked up one or two extra shifts each week. Shifts are either eight or 12 hours in length.
“We do have a quiet room at the hospital for (staff) to get away and relax a bit,” she said, which does help ease stress somewhat. Nurses also have resources available through Sanford that provide both mental and emotional support.
No slowing down
In the 22 months since Worthington saw its first cases of COVID-19, Schettler has seen patient numbers at the local hospital rise, fall and repeat. She estimates well over half of her time at work is spent providing nursing care to patients experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue and other health issues caused by the coronavirus.
“We definitely have had time that we’ve been at full capacity,” she said, noting that at times, patients have had to double up in rooms. Hospital capacity is limited by staffing availability, and when workers get sick, it places added strain on an already strained staff.
“We haven’t gotten to the point of sending our patients out,” Schettler said, adding that only patients with more serious cases of COVID-19 are transferred to Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “(Sanford) Sioux Falls is oftentimes at capacity too and can’t take more patients, so we hold onto some of ours.”
Schettler said most nurses at Sanford Worthington Medical Center have cared for patients with COVID-19, and as time has stretched on, they’ve become more comfortable with both caring for and treating the symptoms.
As in the beginning of the pandemic, medical staff continue to care for patients infected with the coronavirus while wearing face masks, gowns and face shields.
“If we’re just starting our shift, we’ll gather all of our medications and anything the patient will need … and head into the room,” Schettler said.
COVID patients who are experiencing shortness of breath are encouraged to lay on their stomach to take the pressure off of their lungs. A bedside commode is also standard to limit the patient’s activity, as any and all movement requires energy and the ability to breathe.
“If it comes to (a patient needing a) ventilator, we send them off to Sioux Falls,” Schettler added.
Wave after wave
In March 2020, local medical staff treated patients suffering from the initial COVID-19 virus. Since then, they’ve had waves of individuals with the Delta variant, and will likely soon — if not already — be seeing patients with the Omicron variant.
With the Delta variant, Schettler said she’s seen a wide array of people needing medical help — both young and older patients and people of all colors.
“Most of them have been in their 50s, but we’ve had younger ones,” she said. “The symptoms have been the same — loss of smell and taste, non-stop cough, shortness of breath.”
Across the Sanford network of hospitals and clinics, Schettler said they are treating more unvaccinated than vaccinated people.
“More than 90% of patients have not been vaccinated, so it is important to get the vaccine,” she said. “I encourage people to do their research and get the vaccine. It’s safe and effective.
“We have seen in our health system that it does help to keep people out of the hospital.”
And those who have not been vaccinated and end up hospitalized with the virus are getting a reality check.
“A lot of people think they aren’t going to get (COVID-19),” Schettler said. “When I take care of my patients, my focus isn’t whether or not they got the vaccine. My responsibility is to give them the best care.
“It is challenging to go into the room and some of these patients are so short of breath. There’s not much we can do for them — they just have to fight off the virus,” she added.