St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center nurse Paula Levesque at the entrance of the Lewiston hospital on Thursday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — While most Mainers have spent the past several weeks firmly ensconced at home, nurses have been working on the front lines at area hospitals, putting their lives at risk to help care for the community.

For National Nurses Week, five of those nurses tell their stories.

Paula Levesque

As the daughter of a nurse, Paula Levesque grew up around hospitals, medical stories and medical people. She considered becoming a nurse herself, but went in a different direction at college. She didn’t stray for long.

“After dabbling in a few other areas, I circled back to nursing and truly found passion and drive,” she said.

Now 39, Levesque has been a registered nurse for 15 years. She works at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, where she serves as a charge nurse on a cardiopulmonary unit. Some days she cares for patients, other days she trains new nurses or helps the unit run smoothly.

At least, that was her job before the pandemic.

Now her unit has been split in two, with one side dedicated to patients who have or may have COVID-19 and the other side for patients with no signs of the virus.

“Overseeing this unit in these times requires that I pay close attention to what is happening in what sometimes feels like two separate worlds,” she said.

She makes sure they have enough masks and personal protective equipment. She works with the dietary and environmental services/housekeeping departments to make sure they stay safe while doing their jobs. She makes sure everyone is clear on new policies and guidelines, which can change whenever new information is released by the Centers for Disease Control.

And since no family members are allowed to visit, she often sits with patients and just listens.

“Having been working in the field for some time I can attest to the psychological benefit of patients being able to see and spend time with family,” she said. “I can imagine nothing lonelier than being sick in a hospital bed, often not knowing what the outcome may be, and being unable to have a loved one by your side.”

Nurses, she said, are “working with an emotional and psychological load that is as unprecedented as this virus.”

“We are saddened by the things we see, we are scared for our patients, our families, and ourselves. We are frustrated by the PPE shortage, concerned that we will not have enough,” she said. “On top of these emotional stressors, we are unable to rely on the things that would normally comfort us. With parks, gyms, yoga studios and restaurants closed, and social distancing in effect, we have lost many of the strategies we regularly use for coping. It will be a relief to finally be able to hug a co-worker when a day has been especially difficult, or just to see a smiling face again!”

She’s seen others make sacrifices in recent weeks. She doesn’t feel she’s made sacrifices herself.

“Every single member of society has shifted their way of living to help protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors, and for that, medical professionals are forever grateful,” she said. “I can’t identify anything that feels like a sacrifice — aside from my complexion after wearing a mask 13 hours a day! My current way of living doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, it feels like an investment in the future.

Central Maine Medical Center nurse Liana Fleck, stops for a photo on her way home from work at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston Friday afternoon, May 8, 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Liana Fleck

Almost five years into her nursing career, Liana Fleck likes life in Central Maine Medical Center’s operating rooms. The pace is fast, there’s always something new to learn, the days are always different.

But operations are few now, a pandemic precaution. The operating room is not the buzz of activity it was just two months ago, even if it still needs to be ready.

“The challenge is that we are working with limited staff members due to the deployments and furloughs, and still run smooth and efficiently,” said Fleck, 41.

Her role has changed in recent weeks. Sometimes she helps coordinate the operating room. Other times she’s not in the operating room at all and instead screens patients entering the hospital.

“This unprecedented pandemic has forced many of us into new roles that we have not been in previous,” she said. “Therefore flexibility has been key in ensuring that we continue to provide the best care possible to all of our patients. ”

Fleck wanted to be a nurse to make a difference in people’s lives. That hasn’t changed.

“Even though we are faced with many challenges throughout this pandemic, nursing continues to be a rewarding career,” she said.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center nurse Glen Bolduc outside the closed main entrance on Campus Avenue in Lewiston on Thursday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Glen Bolduc

When in his 20s, Glen Bolduc was a Sun Journal reporter. As he got to know the Lewiston-Auburn community, he found he especially admired the people who helped others — “The way it’s supposed to be,” he said.

“(I) love talking and getting to know people, and thought helping them would be even better,” he said

Bolduc got an EMT license and grew intrigued by medical matters. He decided to take that further.

A decade later, Bolduc, 43, is a behavioral nurse educator at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and will soon become clinical informatics manager. But during the pandemic, his job is to help the hospital prepare for the worst-case scenario while providing as much reassurance as he can.

“The potential surge of patients sick with coronavirus is my greatest fear, coupled with staff who may be too sick to help,” he said.

He helped figure out how to reallocate staff, create new beds and review techniques for taking care of patients with COVID-19.

While he hasn’t worked with pandemic patients, he said, “I’m blessed with being able to directly support folks who are putting themselves on the front lines.”

It’s been an experience.

“Honestly, like many I’m sure, it’s been both anxiety provoking and awe inspiring. Early on we didn’t know what we were up against and news out of New York was dire. Here at St. Mary’s you could cut the tension in the air with a knife,” he said. “But my goodness, did folks really come together! I’ve worked with people in all areas of the hospital, closely and quickly, on daunting projects. Directors were putting in all waking hours — even weekends — planning, testing, and prepping. Staff were putting in great amounts of time training, making themselves available, and learning new ways of working every day — and sometimes every hour.”

Any sacrifices he’s made, he believes, have not been as great as the sacrifices made by others.

“RNs who had been in administration started to return to training bedside in preparation. For a while, staff were staying home due to child care issues or COVID-like symptoms, so folks were picking up a lot of extra shifts filling spots. Managers and technology staff were on call day and night trying to help create new systems, and solve any potential issues, because we didn’t know if and when patients were going to start coming in droves. I’d see folks sending out communications from 0500-2000 (5 a.m. to 8 p.m.) Monday through Sunday. It was all-encompassing for them.”

Kerrianne Perron

When Kerrianne Perron was younger, her dad gave her some career advice: Pick a job you’d want to do for a very long time.

Now 52, Perron has been a nurse for 32 years.

“He was right and I’ve always loved it,” she said.

A registered nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, Perron has worked with patients, handled admitting, assisted with procedures and taught other health care providers. During the pandemic, she’s working with infection control and the PPE task force.

“Seeing about questions of staff on the floors with COVID patients and trying to keep them updated during a very fluid situation with CDC guidelines continuously changing — not the most popular person, frankly,” she said. “I tried to make sure all PPE needs were met and monitored appropriateness of use and waste.”

And as part of her job, she’s seen a few COVID-19 patients.

“The first was the scariest, but after getting all the garb on and finally getting into the room, the patient wasn’t the green-eyed monster I’d been expecting; it was a patient,” she said. “It took two seconds to forget the diagnosis and just take care of the needs of the patient.”

Though there is one major difference to seeing patients now: It’s hotter.

“All the gear on makes you sweaty and it is harder to breathe,” she said.

In all, nursing during a pandemic hasn’t been easy.

“I have anxiety. I’ve never had anxiety in my job,” Perron said. “I have bad dreams and overall just anxious on a day-to-day basis.”

She has, she said, gone through “a multitude of emotions.”

“The only things that didn’t change were that people still need care and I still care about those people,” she said.

Vanessa Parlin

As a cardiac care nurse at Central Maine Medical Center, Vanessa Parlin typically preps and helps patients recover from heart catheterizations, pacemaker surgery and other procedures. But for the past four weeks, she’s been redeployed to the emergency department.

Parlin, 37, has been a nurse for 14 years and worked in emergency several years ago. With COVID-19, the ED needed her back.

“It was a huge adjustment. I was more than willing to help — that’s just my nature — but it was a big work difference going back to a faster pace, a more intense never-knowing-what’s-coming-through-the-door environment versus an elective patient who knows exactly what’s going on and why they’re there,” she said.

Not only was the emergency department different from cardiology, but it also differed from the emergency department she remembered.

“A lot of the patients in our community are waiting to come in, I think out of fear and out of  hearing stuff. . . . So we’re having sick, sick patients come in when they should have come in days earlier. So they’re sicker than they would have been,” she said.

And then there was the risk of COVID-19 itself. With a husband and 7-year-old twins at home, Parlin doesn’t want to take chances. She changes into scrubs and personal protective equipment at the hospital, then changes out of them before going home.

“I come home and I go right to the shower. I use our spare shower that no one uses,” she said. “No one wants to bring that home.”

Right now, her biggest challenge is simply adjusting day-to-day — new schedule, new workplace, new rules, new precautions. New disease.

“It’s just adjusting to this new nursing life that we have. It’s not what any of us are used to,” she said.

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