It’s not every day that you get a round of applause just for walking into work—much less an entire hallway of people cheering you on at 7:30 in the morning.

But that’s exactly the welcome physical therapist (PT) Lauren Detmer received at Massachusetts General Hospital upon her return. Detmer had been out of work for 28 days after testing positive for the new coronavirus back in March—and was greeted by her coworkers smiling behind masks and applauding her return.

Lauren Detmer suppresses happy tears as she walks between rows of clapping co-workers.

“I was totally shocked, but the MGH is a really special place,” says Detmer, who trained at Mass General as a student and joined the PT staff immediately upon graduation in 2012. “This is the longest time in my career that I’ve been out of my scrubs.” 

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Detmer had been caring for patients in Mass General’s neonatal and pediatric intensive care units. It’s work that requires a keen eye toward the steps that it might take to get a patient mobilized and out of the ICU.

But in late March, Detmer’s watchful eyes were on her 20-month-old son, who had come down with a fever. Days later, while her son tested negative for COVID-19, Detmer tested positive.

“I was quarantined and away from my family,” says Detmer. Yet, Detmer says, despite being away from the hospital, she still felt the support of her PT colleagues, who sent emails, cards and even video messages for her son. “It makes you feel better when things get dark and you’re having a bad moment.”

Nancy Goode, PT, clinical director for Inpatient Physical Therapy, says, “During this pandemic, we are making every effort to support our colleagues at work and bolster their spirits while they’re out with a prolonged illness.”

Currently, a staff member can only return to work after being symptom-free for three days and testing negative for COVID-19 with two back-to-back tests. Detmer says she received her second negative result earlier this month. And for the first time since getting sick, she says, “I was able to see my son again and wake him up on Easter morning.”  

“I think it’s important for employees to see their colleagues recovering from COVID-19 illness and returning to work,” says Goode. “Physical therapists champion even the small wins with patients.” And that’s what the team did upon her return, when Goode mobilized her staff to celebrate Detmer’s win in coming back to work.

Detmer will return to the ICU helping COVID-19 patients, with what she describes as a greater appreciation for the effects of isolation on patients and the impact of Mass General staff. And, she says, she’ll line the hallway to clap for another PT colleague who is expected to return from quarantine soon.