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The Heart of COVID Friendships

November 19, 2020
Coming back to work after maternity leave can be stressful. After 12 weeks of adjustment and, more than likely, a lack of sleep, returning to work requires catching up, the emotional toll of spending time away from the new baby, balancing a new schedule of pumping and working.

Now, imagine returning from maternity leave as Emergency Department (ED) nurse the week of a massive shutdown due to a global pandemic.

Since March, Danielle Heyman's life has been nothing like she expected. She has been a pediatric nurse in GBMC's Emergency Department for three years. But, in response to COVID-19, she began cross-training in the adult ED to assist her co-workers and wearing PPE to help patients wherever she is needed most.

And the adjustments didn't end there.

"I work part-time so most of my shifts are 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. I would punch out at 1:30, get home at 2:15 a.m., wipe every single thing down that I carried into my house," Danielle said. "I would sanitize everything. I washed my hands like six times. Then I would strip, and my clothes would go immediately into the washing machine. I would run upstairs, shower and, sometimes, I didn’t get into bed until 4 a.m., and then my kids are up at like 6 a.m. Every single thing, even something small, requires a thought process now."

It's a certain kind of stress not many outside the profession can relate to, but Danielle had a friend who did what she could to support her.

When Danielle's 4-year-old son, Hank, met Emily Herwig's son, Adam, at preschool two years ago, they were inseparable. The moms made a commitment to get them together, especially when Danielle moved to Pennsylvania and they no longer went to the same school.

What started out as a play date became a fast friendship. Emily, from her home in Towson, was appreciative of the strides her community hospital was taking to protect its employees during the pandemic. Because of the relationship Emily has with doctors at GBMC and a certain ED nurse, she wanted to go the extra mile to help frontline workers.

"Emily had been checking in on me throughout my post-partum maternity leave," Danielle said, "making sure I was doing OK. We talked about everything. I told her what I was most worried about which, at that time, was mostly just the unknown. We didn't really know a lot of about what was going on. Emily really heard my concerns and was empathetic. Being the loving, giving, generous soul that she is, she said, 'What can I do to help you?'"

Danielle had just received an email about the newly-established HealthCare Workers Fund and suggested Emily could contribute that way, which she did, and then encouraged others to join her through a birthday campaign.

"At that time, I hadn’t left my house in, however many weeks, and it was unfathomable to me," Emily said. "I have other friends who are in medicine, but she's a friend who also works right in my community, at a hospital that I go to, where we have a lot of great doctors that have served our own family. She is my friend going to work – something she does every day – going to GBMC, someplace I go and typically feel safe but who knows what it's going to be like now. Something that you feel comfortable doing normally is suddenly scary."

The GBMC HealthCare Workers Fund has recognized exceptional teamwork and patient care. It has assisted employees whose families have been adversely affected by the pandemic. It has made what has been a stressful and uncertain situation a little bit easier for those who are committed to coming to work to serve patients no matter the climate.

Danielle was proud of GBMC for making swift changes to accommodate the community and the potential surges predicted by the pandemic. When she anecdotally heard from friends in the medical profession about other organizations and their lack of PPE and other protections, "I was really happy that I worked here, knowing those changes that were planned and were actually followed through with." And the establishment of a fund to assist employees was no different.

"I feel so bad for people that don’t have the support," Danielle said. "They have to really be so strong to endure this without that kind of support. I'm so lucky I have my family, and the close friendship I have with Emily."
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