HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center ICU nurse Lisa Kingry’s voice doesn’t break when she talks about the COVID-19 patient who died during her last shift and how she and the four others in the room held the patient’s hand, saying that everything will be OK.
Kingry doesn’t sound exhausted as she recites the painstakingly long and detailed post-shift procedure that includes Lysoling her shoes, getting undressed in the garage, tossing her scrubs in the washing machine, Clorox-wiping her keys and wallet, and showering.
But Kingry takes a moment to regain her composure and hold back tears when the subject turns to the community support she and her hospital have received from businesses, restaurants, and residents who have donated meals, personal protective equipment and more.
It’s a thought that brightens a most unusual Mother’s Day for her and countless other women on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m going to get all teary,” Lisa said at her Mesa home, surrounded by her two young sons — Quinn, 2, Jaxon, 6, and her husband, Casey, a Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community fireman for 20 years.
“It’s wonderful because when you’re wearing a mask 24-7, you have a little bit of a disconnect, and we’re not used to that as nurses; we’re super social. So, having people bring in lunch has been one of those things that brings everybody together,” she said.
Lisa and Casey are both frontline workers serving their respective communities through the pandemic.
“She’s always been my healthcare hero,” Casey added.
On a typical day, they rely on Lisa’s parents to watch the kids as Lisa’s gone for 12-plus hours at a time and Casey for as long as 24 hours.
But with social distancing, Lisa’s parents are unable to visit; so, Lisa and Casey have had to more heavily rely on each other.
“I think some days are harder than others,” Lisa said. “But we’ve both been doing this for a long time, and we talk a lot about what we should be doing differently to support our family and how we can make sure we keep our kids safe.”
Lisa added that the absence of her parents has hit Jaxon the hardest.
“We have to explain to him why we can’t be around Nana and Papa and why we have to keep distant from people and why it takes longer for us to get ready after work,” Lisa said.
“We are so close to them and used to see them five to seven days a week, so being away from my parents has been hard on all of us,” she added.
Lisa and her mom have a particularly special bond.
Lisa has been an ICU nurse at HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center for 15 years — almost half as long as her mother has worked in the same ICU for 35 years.
“When I started as a PCT we worked together in the ICU while I completed my nursing degree,” Lisa said. “After I graduated, she went back to school and got her masters and then started working as our nurse educator, still in the same ICU.”
They continued to work together in the ICU until her mom retired two and a half years ago.
Lisa’s father also worked at HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center as a biomedical engineer but retired when Jaxon was born to be their primary babysitter.
“I think my mom was jealous!” Lisa said. “She retired a little early just before my second was born so she could spend more time with our kids.”
Formed by a merger between Scottsdale Healthcare and John C. Lincoln Health Network, HonorHealth is a nonprofit, local community healthcare system with five acute-care hospitals — three of which are in Scottsdale — and approximately 12,300 employees, 3,700 affiliated physicians and 3,100 volunteers.
Lisa is one of 4,300 nurses at HonorHealth.
“We have a lot of really strong nurses,” Lisa said. “Right now, because we have a segregated unit, we have to really rely heavily on each other for support and teamwork to do tasks that are different than normal.”
Lisa explained that the nurses don’t go into the patient’s rooms as often as they normally would; so, she said, they do a lot of “clustering” of their care.
“That means really looking at everything, making sure you have everything before you go into the room, making sure your fellow nurses on the unit know, ‘Hey, I’m going into my room,’” Lisa said.
The team has been “really inventive,” as well, bringing the IV pumps and the “brains” for the ventilators into the hallways to create a central monitoring station.
“In every patient room, we’ve adjusted where the beds are so that they’re closer to the door. And then the monitor and the pumps fit right outside,” Lisa explained.
What the nurses aren’t able to control, however, is the amount of hands-on care they’re used to giving their patients.
“I don’t know if you know anything about ICU nurses, but they’re a little bit OCD,” Lisa said with a laugh. “It’s really hard for nurses not to be as hands-on with people.”
“So, for us, we had to make it our way,” she continued. “We had to make something about this work for us that we still felt we had control and we could intervene with our patients in a really timely fashion if we needed to.”
Lisa doesn’t know how many COVID-19 patients she’s had so far.
“It’s ever-changing numbers,” she said.
The physicality of her shifts — spending all day on her feet in a high-stress environment, wearing PPE all day — is, as she describes it, “pretty standard.”
It’s the emotional aspect of her shifts that’s proven more taxing.
“That has been more stressful than the actual job itself,” Lisa said. “It’s been a real challenge for us to have people dying at the hospital without a family member at the bedside.”
She said that the nurses FaceTime with family as much as they can, but even that’s been difficult.
“It’s been a real challenge learning how to update families in a timely way,” she said, “because we’re so used to incorporating them into our patient care.”
“As nurses, that’s just not something we’re OK with. We will never allow anyone to pass alone,” she continued, adding, “We are all doing our best to adapt and change and make it all work.”
On April 13, HonorHealth announced the survival of the very first COVID-19 patient in Arizona after being placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) therapy.
According to the press release, the device removes blood from the patient’s body, pumps oxygen into the blood and then pumps it back into the body, helping relieve strain on damaged lungs and hearts.
On May 5, HonorHealth then announced the successful enrollment on a novel combination of atovaquone and azithromycin in patients with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 infection.
This combination is, as the press release states, a “safer option” for coronavirus therapy and will be administered at three HonorHealth hospitals in Scottsdale and Phoenix.
“This is the first trial in the United States, and the first trial made available to patients in Arizona, that involves this specific combination of therapies,” said Kiran Avancha, Ph.D., R.Ph., chief operating officer of HonorHealth Research Institute in a prepared statement.
This is one of 10 clinical trials that the HonorHealth Research Institute is working on related to COVID-19 to understand the biology, spread and treatment of COVID-19.
“I think, initially, everybody was a little on edge,” Lisa said of the morale at Scottsdale Osborn, specifically. “But my director, personally, has done such an amazing job at hearing our concerns, hearing what our needs are.
“When you feel that kind of support from the top and that kind of transparency from our leadership, it creates an environment of trust with all of us, that they really do want to take care of us, like we’re taking care of the patients. So, the morale has been great,” she added.
Lisa added that Arizona has done a “really good job” of maintaining social distancing.
“And because Arizona has done such a good job, our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed,” she said.
What angers Lisa, however, are residents who do not take the virus seriously.
“It makes me really tired,” she said. “I don’t want this to reflect on HonorHealth, but in my personal opinion, I feel like people have a very unrealistic view of how serious this can really be because Arizona’s numbers are not what they were projected. I don’t think everybody understands the cause and effect of social distancing.”
Lisa added that because of Arizonans’ social distancing efforts so far, the numbers are much lower than predicted and this likely leads residents to believe that the virus “isn’t a big deal.”
“But what they don’t see is what people are really going through in New York and Detroit and Detroit and Chicago, and some of those really hard-hit cities. It’s hard as a nurse to see that, and I just want people to be responsible and take ownership of their community and not just their own immediate needs,” she said.
In the meantime, Lisa and her fellow HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center healthcare workers will continue to work their more than 12-hour shifts; and on their short, five- to 10-minute breaks, they’ll continue to cherish the time they get to spend with one another, while eating hot, fresh, donated meals.
“We’re so busy, but even if it’s just that 10 minutes to take your mask off and reconnect with each other, those meals have been the things that bond us all together,” she said.