In March, Barbara Brien, RN, BSN, was excited to begin a new role as team leader for the Gastrointestinal Motility Lab within the Division of Gastroenterology—a natural extension of her two decades of nursing experience at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Despite being in the midst of establishing the new unit, Brien—previously a nurse on the Blake 7 Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU)—became concerned about how her former unit would manage the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients. Brien spoke to Kyle Staller, MD, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Lab, telling him, “I would be happy to be deployed to my former unit if they needed help. He was 100% supportive and when the call to arms came, I was able to volunteer,” says Brien.
Within 48 hours Brien was back in the MICU, working closely with former colleague Bernadette Quigley, RN, once again. “It was so great to go back to the MICU to help everyone out,” says Brien, who notes that Staller also was redeployed to care for patients in the Person Under Investigation Unit (PUI) in Phillips House.
Caring for patients with COVID-19 presented unique challenges on all fronts. “The patients were so incredibly sick—a level I have not seen since the swine flu in 2010,” says Brien. “Additionally, the lack of family presence was heartbreaking. If ever there was a need for loved ones to be present, it’s when you are fighting for your life. We, as health care workers, needed to step up to be our patients’ advocates.”
Barbara Brien, RN, BSN
The level of hard work that went into caring for COVID-19 patients made me realize I am up for any challenge. Nothing is insurmountable and starting a new unit from the ground up seems miniscule to what we as a hospital just accomplished during this pandemic.
New Gastrointestinal Motility Lab team leader, former MICU nurse
Brien also recalls what many other health care workers grappled with during the height of the surge: fear of infecting their own families. “That is why I decided to take advantage of the hotel accommodation program Mass General provided. I was able to greatly limit any chance of exposure to my family—a saving grace as we all sought to provide care for patients and safeguard our families.”
As Brien transitioned to a per diem basis in the MICU, she says the amount of comradery and teamwork on the MICU truly helped soften the uncertainty of the surge. “Every single person on the unit impacted patient care in a positive way and I left my deployment with an amazing sense of accomplishment by the hard work and dedication of everyone involved. When you win more than you lose against this virus, it bears a moment of reflection knowing you played a part in making that happen.”
Brien says COVID-19 has shaped the way she views her new role in GI and feels incredibly lucky to embark upon this new opportunity. “The level of hard work that went into caring for COVID-19 patients made me realize I am up for any challenge. Nothing is insurmountable and starting a new unit from the ground up seems miniscule to what we as a hospital just accomplished during this pandemic.”