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Volunteer Voices: Houston Strong

When the battle to stop COVID-19 gets exhausting, little moments keep you going. Read the latest dispatch from a Project HOPE volunteer nurse deployed to Houston, Texas.

By Lisa Olsen

The slogan “Houston Strong” has resonated with me throughout my time here.

I’m not sure if it’s because I see so many people in the community wearing T-shirts with the slogan on them, or if it’s the strength demonstrated by the COVID-embattled patients I’ve been taking care of at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital intensive care unit. There’s also the extremely dedicated medical staff I work with, all of whom exemplify strength, endurance, and compassion. As I decompress at the end of each day, it’s reaffirmed to me: Houston is strong.

I have been welcomed here with enthusiasm and relief. Each morning I walk into MICU, the exhausted eyes of the nurses spark, and with a smile they seem to say, Thank you, we are so grateful to have you here. After our morning briefing with the managers and charge nurses, we walk out of the staff lounge, the double doors swing open, and it begins.

It reminds me of watching my son before his college swim events. His best event was the mile — 1,650 yards. Before he stepped on the block, he and his coach would talk strategy, pace, and to be sure to have fun. The sound of the double doors in the hospital is like the horn blowing at the start of our own mile-long race for the next 12 hours.

During my son’s races, I could always be counted on to produce the loudest whistle and the deepest “MOVE!” heard at the poolside. Here on the front lines of COVID-19, there can be an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion at various points throughout the day, and in the back of my mind I hear my family cheering me on.

Today it’s 1700, 10 hours into my shift, and we have six patients to prone or supine before 1900 — a process that involves turning a patient onto either their back or their stomach to help with breathing. Depending on the patient it can take a village of two respiratory therapists, four to six nurses, and 15-20 minutes.

Tonight, just when I feel as if I don’t have the energy to pull one more gown over my head, a voice on the intercom overhead says, “We have successfully discharged another COVID patient.” Then Tina Turner’s voice booms through the speaker, singing, “Simply the Best.” Everyone starts dancing and singing. It’s the perfect motivation to keep moving.

I have enjoyed my time here at LBJ MICU immensely. It has been an experience of learning, laughing, bonding, caring, crying, and reflecting. I will leave holding a phrase dear to my heart: Houston Strong.

Lisa Olsen is a trauma ground transport nurse in Park City, Utah, where she lives with her husband and two kids.

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