Danielle Healey, RN '11 Returns to Work after COVID

    June 3, 2020
    The University of Scranton nursing program definitely taught me to be flexible and to be ready for any situation.

    Danielle (Gilson) Healey '11 is an RN at Yale New Haven Hospital in the Perioperative Services Adult Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) who tested positive for COVID-19 on April 2. Her mom, sister, niece and husband also contracted the virus. 

    "The University of Scranton nursing program definitely taught me to be flexible and to be ready for any situation," said Healey. "I think It has helped throughout my nine-year nursing career feel prepared and confident. I will be forever grateful for the experiences, education and the professors at Scranton."

    She shared her recent experiences with us.

    You got COVID-19 as more strict measures were being taken at the hospital where you work. Can you tell us what it was like at your hospital at the time?

    My hospital had just started requiring employees to wear a mask at all times. Everyone was on edge and we didn't know what was going to happen with our hospital or our unit. We started training and shadowing in the ICUs to prepare for possibly floating there. Although all of the RN's in the PACU are critical care or Emergency Department trained, some nurses had never worked in an ICU or hadn't worked in one in years. Luckily I had worked in the medical ICU four years ago so I was better prepared than most of my coworkers.

    We eventually would close our PACU, open as an ICU non-COVID overflow unit, and float to the various COVID ICU floors. There would eventually be four Medical COVID ICU floors in my hospital. The evening before our shift, our manager would text us saying if we were to report to the float pool or our ICU overflow unit the next day. This started happening just as I became sick, so I did not care for any COVID patients (as far as I know) before that, though looking back there may have been a couple suspected cases before we starting locking everything down.

    Can you tell us what it was like to get the virus? 

    I was tested for COVID-19 on April 2, 2020. I started having symptoms a few days before that, which started as slight body aches. I eventually progressed to have a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from a headache behind my eyes to chills and losing my sense of taste and smell. Although I would feel like I had a fever at times my home thermometer said otherwise. I ended up losing my taste for about a month, which was very depressing as I couldn't even use food as a comfort. I developed slight respiratory symptoms about a week or so into it, which was a slight dry cough and wheeze. Luckily it never progressed to shortness of breath or anything more severe. I also had gastrointestinal symptoms at one point. All in all, it lasted about two weeks before I returned to work. My hospital's criteria was that I was symptom-free for 72 hours before returning; I did not have to test negative. Physically I was just tired throughout the whole course, mostly laying on the couch and not being very active. Mentally it was a roller coaster, because, at the same time, my mom, sister, niece and husband all got the virus as well.

    Your mom and sister are nurses also nurses who tested positive. What were their experiences like?  

    I was extremely worried about my mom, as she is in the high-risk age group and my sister who has bad asthma. My mom had the worst symptoms of all of us. She developed a very bad cough, had fevers and severe joint aches. She was put on Z-Pack Antibiotics for possible secondary pneumonia. She and my sister both luckily avoided the hospital. My sister had similar symptoms to my mom and they also all lost their sense of taste and smell. It took my mom a month and a half to fully recover, and she just went back to work last week. I am so thankful they are all OK. It was definitely one of the scariest times of my life.

    I tried to share my experience with the patients that I could to offer them hope and understanding.

    What was it like when you returned to work at the hospital?

    When I returned, I cared for COVID patients who ranged from being on high amounts of oxygen on a high flow nasal cannula to being very sick on ventilators. There was such a wide variety in the ages and medical history of the patients that I soon realized COVID does not discriminate.

    The whole experience was very surreal. You would arrive in the morning, stand in line to receive your PPE for the day, and then go to the charge nurse to see which floor you were assigned to. You would get a paper bag to store your masks that you reused all day and then placed in a recycling bin at the end of your shift.

    I quickly realized these patients were sicker than I thought, with it being extremely difficult to wean down their oxygen requirements. There was a lot of hoping and waiting.

    I tried to share my experience with the patients that I could to offer them hope and understanding. One patient I had was a very active man in his 70s who still worked and had almost no medical history. He was very frustrated and just kept looking for answers, asking me why I think this happened to him. I was at a loss for what to say to him. I just tried to make his experience as positive as I could. It made me appreciate, even more, that my family and I had mild symptoms and were able to avoid the hospital.

    I sang her a song and held her hand. I was happy that at least she wasn't alone when she passed.

    Can you tell us about one experience treating a COVID patient?

    One of the last patients with COVID that I took care of would probably be the most memorable. She was an older woman from a nursing facility with a history of schizophrenia and dementia. She was a no-code DNR/DNI which means do not resuscitate and do not intubate, so she was on a BIPAP machine to help her breathe. She had no family or next of kin, only a legal power of attorney who made her medical decisions. The doctors caring for her painted a bleak picture in rounds that morning, talking through her plan of care but eventually realizing there was not much else they could do for her. They then talked to the medical representative about discontinuing care. When the time came, the respiratory therapist and I sat with her, and I did my best to keep her comfortable in her last moments with medication drips and pushes. I sang her a song and held her hand. I was happy that at least she wasn't alone when she passed.

    How do you decompress after your days with patients?

    Coming home to my husband, cat, and dog would help me decompress and let go of the day's events. My friends have also been incredibly supportive and there for me every step of the way. It helps tremendously that my mom and sister are nurses; I can talk about my stressful days and they know exactly what I'm going through.

    Back to Top