The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Nicole's Story.
When called upon to serve a vulnerable population, Nicole Laurino, RN, volunteered her skills to help treat patients with COVID-19. Over the course of the pandemic, Nicole and her fellow nurses from different departments within Mass General came together to treat these patients with compassion.
“At the end of the day, Mass General as a whole really stepped up. Every floor, every healthcare worker, whether it be clinical or non-clinical, took on a new role and did it so well and have made everyone so proud and want to do it together.”
“I started on Lunder 9 as an Inpatient Oncology nurse four and a half years ago. About two and a half months ago I transferred floors and went to the Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies as an outpatient oncology clinical trials nurse. When COVID-19 took over, my old floor, Lunder 9, started to change. First to a COVID rule-out floor, then to a COVID ICU. I talked to Cassandra McIntyre, my boss, and we both made the decision for me to go back to Lunder 9 as I had the most recent inpatient experience. So, you know, you’re thinking ‘what’s happening, I’m already going back?’ I had just finished my orientation in Termeer. I have been on Lunder 9 for over a month now. Lunder 9 saw ICU staff from all different floors. We have cardiac ICU, medical ICU, cardiac surgeons… it’s just a mishmosh of people trying to make one cohesive floor. That was really scary going into.”
Was it challenging to have nurses trained in all different disciplines work together to serve this new population of patients?
“Because we all have our own specialty, it was hard to all come together and figure out a way to work together at first. I was going back to Lunder 9, where I was so comfortable before, but now it was a foreign place to me that I don’t know anything about. Oncology is my specialty. That’s what I do, that’s what I wanted to do. And to be put back in a place that was so familiar to me, but now it’s so different, I became a new nurse again. I was a new nurse two and a half months ago when I came to Termeer, and you know, now that I just found my groove there, now I’m a new nurse again. I had no idea what was going on. That was the most challenging part, for me and all of the other nurses on Lunder 9."
"The Lunder 9 nurses, the familiar faces and the new faces, I knew those were the people I wanted to go through this with. I knew they were going to be able to perform. Seeing how they had been with our oncology patients, they were the ones who were going to really show up and really commit to this new ICU role.”
Was it an easy decision to go back to Lunder 9?
“At first when it was a COVID rule-out floor, I was getting texts from our time planners asking me if I wanted to pick up shifts. I was really conflicted with that. I didn’t want to be putting my family at risk, but also working a shift on a COVID floor and then going back to my oncology patients, I knew I would potentially be putting them at risk. So, at first, I thought I wouldn’t do it. That may have been selfish of me, to want to stay safe for my loved ones, but then everything changed so fast. Cassandra and I both decided that I would go over there. I feel good about my decision. I feel comfortable with it.”
It’s honorable, what you have decided to do. To give up the comfort of being in the Termeer Center and going into the center of the COVID pandemic at Massachusetts General Hospital. Is there a lesson you’ve learned from this experience?
“People say ‘we signed up for this when we decided to be a nurse’, and you know, I didn’t sign up to be a nurse in a pandemic, that wasn’t the goal when I became a nurse. And after working as a nurse during a pandemic, what will really stick with me, what I wanted to do, and what all the nurses on Lunder 9 wanted to do, was be a compassionate nurse. And caring for these patients really showed just how compassionate and caring we all are. And not only as nurses, but towards each other as people. And that’s one of the biggest takeaways. You have all of these vulnerable patients, these vulnerable people who can’t have family members visit. And, yes, I know how to take care of a vulnerable population, but nothing like this. I think this will help me when I go back to my oncology career, I’ll be more compassionate there. More giving to my oncology patients.”
Have your expectations about what your day to day at work looks like changed dramatically since moving back to Lunder 9?
“I think that moving back to an inpatient floor and taking care of these patients, it’s opened my eyes. When I was in Termeer, I would have my day all planned out. I would go in and treat these patients on specific protocols. But inpatient isn’t as calculated. And especially with these patients, we don’t know much about COVID-19 at all. It’s changed everything about my days. It’s more challenging. We got word that [Lunder 9] would be becoming an ICU in 2-3 weeks, and then we got another email that we’d actually be transitioning in 2 to 3 days. Now Lunder 9 transitioned from COVID ICU to Palliative Care, end of life care, for COVID patients. Half is ICU and half is Palliative Care. You don’t know what you will be walking into each day.”
How have you been coping with your new role, and all of the emotions that come along with working as a COVID nurse?
“The biggest resource has been my family, my fiancé, and my other nursing colleagues. Debriefing with my nursing friends because they’re in it and they understand has helped. It’s hard, working before this I’d say, ‘I like to bake, I like to do yoga to find some release for stress.’ But you can’t really go anywhere now, it’s hard to leave work at work. Talking about it is the best release for me now.”
Has this pivot changed the way you see the rest of your career?
“I’m definitely excited to go back to my oncology patients. Lunder 9 really took on this role of ICU. I’m beyond proud of these nurses. But I know at the end of the day, we are oncology nurses and we are all really excited for the day that the first oncology patient comes back to Lunder 9."
"What I want to share and what I want people to hear from me is that at the end of the day, Mass General as a whole really stepped up. Every floor, every healthcare worker, whether it be clinical or non-clinical, took on a new role and did it so well and have made everyone so proud and want to do it together. Of course there were bumps in the beginning, everyone was coming in with a different style of nursing and working as a team, but as the weeks progressed everyone really just came together. And I think that makes what being an MGH employee is all about, and it’s what makes us all proud to work here. It’s amazing to experience firsthand how we are all working together.”
What is something you are looking forward to?
“Once this is all over, I would love to visit my sister in San Francisco. She just had a baby two months ago, and I haven’t had the opportunity to see her, my brother-in-law, or the baby. My plans are to go out and see them.”
At the end of the day, Mass General as a whole really stepped up. Every floor, every healthcare worker, whether it be clinical or non-clinical, took on a new role and did it so well and have made everyone so proud and want to do it together.
Nicole Laurino, RN
This interview was conducted on May 8, 2020 and has been edited for clarity.
Over the last nine weeks, Maggie Joyce, RN has changed the way that she defines being a nurse. Working from home, making connections with new patients, and working on activating a number of new clinical trials has defined this transitional period for Maggie and other nurses at the Cancer Center.