Nurses feeding nurses: Individuals in Flagstaff, Tuba City work to provide assistance amid harrowing times

Nurses feeding nurses: Individuals in Flagstaff, Tuba City work to provide assistance amid harrowing times

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Pete Brainard, a nurse anesthesiologist from Flagstaff who works at Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, popped out for dinner recently. He returned after a 156-mile round trip with 32 meals from Olive Garden for his coworkers.

In an e-mail talking about Brainard, Adrian Jones, an operating nurse at Flagstaff Medical Center, shared the story.

“Pete Brainard, a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist), is one of the dedicated providers from Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, and like so many healthcare workers in Arizona he stands at the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic," Jones wrote. "Every day, with their high rate of corona cases, the staff at TCRHCC has been working extra-long hours treating Navajo Nation community members as well as fellow colleagues who have fallen ill.

"In the hopes of lifting the TCRHCC spirits, Mr. Brainard reached out on social media in search of community members willing to help provide meals and well wishes for the hard-working staff there. Having previously worked as a CRNA with Forrest Canyon Anesthesia at Flagstaff Medical Center for five years, word quickly spread. A group of 16 staffers from FMC’s Operating Room and Clinical Performance Department, coordinated by Kay McCombs, RN, raised over $600 to help provide a three-course meal for the entire TCRHCC night shift.”

Brainard, who lives in Flagstaff in between four-day stints working in Tuba City, has now delivered meals several times.

“When I brought in Olive Garden the first time, the day shift was leaving and they were really excited to see that coming in,” Brainard said. “In Tuba you’ve got KFC, McDonald's and Taco Bell, so I really focused on getting something from Flagstaff that people would be really excited to have.

“During the week there is a food donation calendar for different groups donating food and I just sign up for one slot a week and we take 30 to 40 meals for each shift that we sign up for. We’ve done two Olive Garden runs but I’m going to switch it up next week. It has to be something that travels well for the hour-and-a-half trip and we have to make sure that it’s individually packaged as well.

“They were extremely excited to be able to have food from a restaurant. There were a couple of staff that were manning the kitchen so they would let the night shift pick out their meal, the staff would go and sit down and then they would bring them their food. It almost turned into a mini Olive Garden restaurant as they bought them their food.”

Brainard, who has been working with the sickest COVID patients since the pandemic hit the Navajo reservation, talked about the work that medical staff were doing in the intensive care unit and the respiratory support unit.

“What we have been responsible for is intubations and placing central lines when they get so sick that they can't breathe on their own anymore," he said. "We are placing central venous lines and arterial lines to monitor blood pressure and delivery of medicines. So we work helping out in the ICU, helping the registered nurses working in the ICU, and helping the internal medicine doctors, the hospitalists that are working there too. A lot of it is just monitoring, but things get intense when patients go downhill and are really struggling to breathe. That’s when the most work happens.

“When we intubate a patient they have no reserves left. It’s a pretty tense situation to intubate them and keep them alive. The nurses are working 12-hour shifts and staffing is tight, so they are working more shifts than they normally would. It’s very difficult to work in all of that protective equipment too. When you have a limited supply you don’t want to waste the supply that you have by taking too many breaks. It gets itchy and stuffy and hot."

These working conditions, which involve a great deal of stress and discomfort, led Brainard to want to do something to brighten the shifts for his colleagues.

“This is important because we have to support staff in such a critical time in a crisis like this, and that they feel supported because working in the hospital during this pandemic can be very demoralizing because of how sick people are and the frustrations of the illness," Brainard said. "Something as simple as thoughtfulness from the RNs in Flagstaff can be a boost to their emotional strength.”

When Brainard collected the first batch of meals from the Olive Garden restaurant in Flagstaff, he met a group of nurses from Flagstaff Medical Center wearing scrubs and face masks who helped add notes of support on each meal from the staff of one medical organization to the staff of another. The Flagstaff nurses helped Brainard load up the back of his car for the 80-mile drive to the western edge of the Navajo reservation where he would deliver sustenance, love and support from one group of healers to another, both fighting the same battle.

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